What Was the News the Day Before Christmas?
December 22nd, 1991 @ 8:15 AM
WHAT WAS THE NEWS THE DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-22-91 8:15 a.m.
This is the senior pastor bringing the message entitled What Was News the Day before Christmas? If I could read one further verse in the passage we read in Luke number 2: “She brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” [Luke2:7].
What was news the days before Christmas? One, the census: Augustus Caesar made an imperial decree that the entire world should be enrolled, should be registered [Luke 2:1]. And you can imagine the speculation of all of the provinces and nations that comprised the Roman Empire, as to its purpose. Was there an added tax coming? Was there a military conscription in the offing? Was there to be a campaign into Britain, or into Germany, or into faraway India? That was news before Christmas, the national census.
What was news the days before Christmas? The organization of the Zealots; these men who were fanatically committed to separating Israel from the Roman Empire, and two of their number are named here in the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, Judas and Theudas [Acts 5:36, 37]. Then there was also the Sicarii; it’s a Latin word and when it comes into Greek, it comes out sicarii. They were dagger-men, they were fanatical patriots of Israel and so hated the Romans that in a crowded throng, they hid little daggers in their flowing robes. And in those multitudinous throngs, they would take those daggers out and assassinate those Romans who were present. It was a horrible thing! But that was news the days before Christmas.
What was news the days before Christmas? Everything about Herod: he was a born murderer and slew his own family. In Greek, there’s a word for “pig” named huos. In Greek, there is a word for “son” named huios. And Augustus, the emperor of the Roman Empire said, “In Israel, it would be better to be a huos than a huios.” He slew his own sons as well as his own wife. And who was to be the successor to Herod? Was it to be Archelaus, or Antipas, or Aristarchus? Who was to follow Herod? That was news the days before Christmas.
What was news the day before Christmas? Oh dear! The gossip that covered the earth about the imperial succession in Rome itself: Augustus had a son—had a stepson—his wife’s son, and his name was Tiberius. Was Tiberius to be the successor of the great Augustus? Augustus also had a grandson named Germanicus. And Germanicus had married Agrippina, who was the daughter of the great Agrippa and the grandniece of Augustus. And the whole world loved Germanicus. And when Tiberius saw that, he poisoned Germanicus and of course became the successor. That was the gossip and the news the days before Christmas.
What was not news the days before Christmas? Well, this was certainly not the news before Christmas: a donkey slowly is making his way down south to Bethlehem. And you would hardly have noticed it, had it not been that the woman is riding the donkey, which was unusual in those days. For the man rode the donkey and the woman followed along on foot behind. So noticing it, you would look twice, and then see that she was great with child. And then you understood.
One of the craziest things that I ever got into, I was over there in Israel not long after that war, and in a jeep going right next to the borderline between the Arabs and the Jews. And the whole country was filled with land mines, and it scared the daylights out of me—the jeep going down that road, and right there, and right there, right anywhere, any number of land mines—so he, the missionary who was driving that thing, in order to comfort me a little bit and take away my fear—he said, “Now pastor,” he said, “you know there is a great change here in the Arab world.” He says, “For all these generations past, the man rode the donkey and the woman walked behind. But this is all changed today. Today the man rides the donkey, and the woman walks in front on account of land mines.” What was not news before Christmas? That donkey and that little woman riding with the man in front.
I think one of the most interesting cartoons I ever looked at in my life: Hodgenville, in the middle of Kentucky, heavy snow everywhere, and an old fellow with a gun over his shoulder is meeting a friend, and asks him, “Is there any news?” “No,” he said, “No news, just the snow, and the farmer over there trying to save his cow, and Nancy Hanks Lincoln about to have a baby. Nothing ever happens around Hodgenville.”
What is not news? That donkey and that little mother on the way to Bethlehem.
So arriving there in the city of David, they go to the Grand Hotel; there’s no room. They’re having a celebration of winter festival and the Feast of Dedication, no room. They go to the Imperial Hotel, no room. They’re having a big game in the hippodrome between Lebanon and Hebron, and there’s no room. They go to the Bethlehem Inn and there’s no room. It’s crowded because of the census. And the wife of the manager of the inn draws her husband, Ben-Ezra, aside and whispers in his ear. And I can guess what she whispered. “Sweet husband, do you see her? Can’t we find a place?”
And he says, “Out in the stable, out in the cave, maybe there’s room among the cows, and the sheep, and the donkeys.”
And there the little precious family go. Isn’t that a sight? And as they try to make a place to stay for the night, Joseph says, “Mary, I’m so sorry.”
And Mary replies, “I understand. It’s all right.” And that night, He was born [Luke 2:7].
All the days of my youth, and after I even came here to Dallas, there was a very famous radio commentator that finished his comments, his news with: “This is the top of the news as it looks from here.” That’s the way he’d close it: “This is the top of the news as it looks from here.” And I can imagine the radio commentator: “This is the top of the news as it looks from here,” as he talks about Caesar Augustus, and as he talks about Herod, and as he talks about the Sicarii, as he talks about Tiberius. “This is the top of the news as it looks from here.” I’d like to add, I can imagine the Lord God up there in heaven, saying, “This is the top of the news as it looks from here.” And He points to His star [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. “Look!” And He points to His angels here as they sing [Luke 2:13-14]. And He points to His wise men as they worship [Matthew 2:11]. What is important in the eyes of God? So the Child, this Child is God’s answer to the heartache, and the blood-letting, and the tears of His chosen people [Matthew 1:20-25].
Their entire history is written in tragedy and in sorrow. Look at that boy over there, Fred. It was this year—I’m talking about 1991—it was this year, they were planning to go to Israel. He was going to take his choir and orchestra. Why didn’t they do it? Because of those missiles that were aimed at the cities and the towns in Israel. Why cannot they come to some kind of a peace in the negotiations that are now going on over there? The story is written in blood and in tears.
What is God’s answer to the story of the tragedy of His people? It lies in their and our acceptance of the Savior who was born in Bethlehem. God says, “I am sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” [Matthew 15:24]. And the great apostles write, “He is our peace who has made us and them one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” [Ephesians 2:14]. And writes yet again: “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, there is not barbarian or Scythian, or slave or free: but all of us are one in Christ” [Colossians 3:11]. That is God’s purpose for His chosen people: they to accept the Lord as Savior, we to accept the Lord as Savior; and we become one in Him [Colossians 3:11].
You know, the thing that I cannot understand is the indifference of God’s people to their wonderful and glorious Son, Christ Jesus. They pointed out where He was to be born [Micah 5:2], and never bothered to find Him. But, that’s God’s purpose; I haven’t time even to enter into it, but someday Israel will bow before their own King and accept Him as we have done, and we’ll all be one in the kingdom [Romans 11:25-33]. This Child is not only God’s answer to the tears and sorrows of Israel, but this Child is the answer to the problems of the world, dear me!
As some of you, two times I’ve gone through that mausoleum, that tomb of Lenin, before the Kremlin wall in Moscow. And as you know, they had there after he died, Stalin—Joseph Stalin. And that was their answer to the problems of the world—Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels, and Nikolai Lenin, and Joseph Stalin, and their socialization and communization of all of the resources of the world—that was their answer. And in your last few days, you have seen the sorrow and the tragedy of the end of communism. They threw Stalin out, and buried him in the ground where his body is turned to dust right there before the Kremlin wall. And I make a prediction; the day is coming when they will take that body of Lenin out of that mausoleum, and fling it somewhere into the dirt and the ground.
There is no solution to the problems of the world except in this Son, this Child. And in His great Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], the heart of which is the Golden Rule [Matthew 7:12]: we do to others as we pray others will do unto us. This Child, God’s answer to the peace of the world, dear me!
Upon a time, the Foreign Mission Board sent me and another on a preaching mission around the world. I was gone from this pulpit here four months. And two of those months were in Japan. We—I, conducting those crusades in the great cities of Japan; started up there at the top, went clear down to the bottom, for two months—stayed in the homes of those Japanese Christians. And I so well remember the feeling I had in my heart as I visited with the Akimbo family, Akimbo family. They were Christians, and they described to me how they felt when Japan attacked America; Pearl Harbor. And they said that, “We never felt so hurt in our hearts, in our lives, as when our own people, and our own nation, attacked your people and your nation.”
Let me ask you something: what if the whole citizenship and citizenry of Japan had been Christian and had felt that way? You would have never had Pearl Harbor, you would never have had that awful war. He is the answer to the peace of this world, this Child. There is nothing wrong with nationalism; it is one of the dynamic motives in human life. There’s nothing wrong with being a good Canadian, or a good Mexican, or a good Brazilian, or a good Britisher, or a good American; to love your country and to serve it, but that does not carry with it hatred for other people, and the proliferation of nuclear arms and war. He is the answer to the peace of the world, loving one another in the faith.
And last, this Child is the answer to the need of the human heart and the human soul. We need God!
Do you remember in these—some of you are too young to remember—do you remember in these years past, when Rudyard Kipling came to America? He started on the East Coast and went clear to the West Coast—this marvelous, wonderful poet who represents the whole mankind, Rudyard Kipling. When he was in San Francisco, he became desperately ill, and they were afraid he was going to die. And to have that wonderful poet to die here in our country, it was just cruel to think of the prospect. Well, in his illness, he began to whisper something, move his lips and to whisper. And the nurse put down her ear to his lips to hear what he was saying. And that great English poet was repeating over, and over, and over again, “I need, I need, I need God.” He voiced for all of us the great need of human life: we need, we need God!
I have a funeral tomorrow. One of the sweetest, dearest men in our church has died. I live in a world like that, and there will come a time in your life when you will face those same sorrows; then what? “Where can I find God, and what is He like?”
Even the scientists will speak of the great omnipotence; this neutral, unnamed, unseen, indescribable power that flings these planets out into space and guides their orbits around the sun [Colossians 1:16-17]. All of us are sensitive to, and familiar with, the great power that lies back of the universe and the eternity of that power forever and ever. But who is He? And what is He like? And does He know me? And is He sensitive to my heart and my prayers? Sweet people, you can never, ever know God as a person unless He reveals Himself as personal, never in the earth. You can study these planets forever, and you can follow the omnipotent power of the Almighty forever, but you will never know Him until He reveals Himself as somebody. And that is what Jesus did for us.
God became incarnate in human flesh [Matthew 1:23]. and was born as we were born, lived a life as we are living our lives—knows all about the tragedies, and sorrows, and disappointments of human experience [Hebrews 4:14-16]—suffered and died our death [1 Corinthians 15:3]. O God! What Christmas, and what the birth of Jesus, means to us!
Oh, come all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant.
Come ye, come ye
Come and adore Him,
Born the King of angels.
Oh, come let us adore Him.
Oh, come let us adore Him.
Oh, come let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord.
[“O Come All Ye Faithful”; John F. Wade]
Sweetest invitation God could ever offer, sweetest experience we could ever know; loving our Lord Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem, our Savior in glory, our friend and our Advocate forever.
In this moment, we’re going to sing us a song.