Date: December 29, 1935
When they had seen it, they made know abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child. – Luke 2:17
Eternal Father of unchanging grace: As we approach the threshold of the new year, we humbly ask Thee to remove the many blots with which we have stained the record of the twelvemonth now closing. Were it not for the allcompassionate, all-embracing love of Thy Son, our Savior, and for the cleansing power of His blood; could we not today, on this last Sunday of the old year, cling with firmness of confidence to the cross upon which He died in our stead, we should be the most wretched of all men. But—praise, glory, and honor to Thine inestimable mercy—we draw close to Thee this afternoon by the eternal mercies of Christ to receive from Thee pardon and forgiveness. Draw near to us, heavenly Father, in this last radio service for the old year and endow our broadcast with power from on high, so that through Thy Spirit souls may be brought to Christ, wavering hearts strengthened, sorrowing lives comforted, loneliness, destitution, pain, and misery lightened. We will not let Thee go as the new year approaches except Thou bless us. Grant us this blessing for Thy name’s sake, through the love and promise of the Christ-child. Amen.
THERE are ages of history called the silent centuries because no records of their achievements have survived. There are crisis moments in the affairs of men in which cowardly silence provokes irreparable disaster. But there is a sinister silence which is very modern and which withholds the one basic blessing our age and its disappointed millions need above all else. This more tragic silence is the muffled voice of millions of Christians whose sealed lips and idle hands betray startling indifference or spiritual cowardice.
In this day of high-pressure publicity, when American industry, even in these lean years, annually spends $700,000,000 for advertising its products, all the churches of the United States together have not been able to raise even half this amount for their activities. People in sections of the nation favored by climate and scenery display a fine enthusiasm for these attractions; but how many Christians show the genuine loyalty to their heavenly homeland that Floridians and Californians constantly exhibit for their orange groves and sun-swept beaches? Cities are thrown into frenzy at the return of a world’s champion baseball team, and the names of the players are on the lips of young and old. Yet how infrequently do we show that glowing ardor in welcoming the Savior! 40,000,000 people pay to see an exposition featuring the progress of the past century, and to children and children’s children will they recount the exhibit highlights. But the Christ, to whom the progress of all centuries is due, should receive the constant acclaim of America’s 125,000,000! We speak volubly concerning the trends of the day with its thefts and murders, its scandals and home-breaking, its roster of many crimes; but how reluctant we often are to discuss the grace and strength of our Christian faith!
While we are still within the radiance of the Christmas glory (and the appeal of the Savior’s nativity is too penetrating to be restricted to a few hours in one short day), let me remind you that one reason why many American churches have failed (when, of all times, they should have succeeded) is the hushed and muted testimony to Christ in many Christian hearts and lives, the pall of silence that hangs too heavily over many Christian homes.
Let me, then, on this last Sunday of the year, direct this plea to you:—
BREAK THE SILENCE!
I ask you to follow the shepherds’ example, of whom we read (Luke 2, 17): “When they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child,” to shout the glad tidings of our Christian faith.
OUR AGE CRIES OUT FOR CHRISTIAN WITNESSES!
How did these lowly shepherds become the first missionaries of Christ? We are told that, “when they had seen” the Child, they began their public testimony. After they had heard the angelic chorus sing of divine glory, peace, and universal good will, after they had knelt at the side of the manger and seen the fulfilment of the heavenly promise, no logical reasoning impelled them to make known this message of rejoicing. This determination sprang from the fulness of their faith. They had seen Christ, and others must see Him, too.
How much greater should be our zeal in testifying to the Savior! For we have seen Him, and we know Him not only as the cradled Child of Christmas, but as the sindestroying crucified Savior. We have beheld Him, year after year, both at His birth and at His death. We have not only the testimony of an angel choir, hut also the voices of four evangelists, the inspired testimony of the apostles, and the verdict of nineteen centuries of history. We know that whoever sees Jesus in faith sees the immensity of a love that knows no limits, a devotion stronger than death. Whoever beholds the full, redeeming Christ of the Scriptures (and I say this with a prayer that, under the guidance of the Spirit, these words may strike home and lead all of you to accept Jesus as your own eternal Redeemer), whoever sees Christ in faith, beholds a mercy higher than the heavens, wider than the universe, the immeasurable grace that forgives, soothes, heals, strengthens, sustains,—and does all this, and whatever else you and I need for time and eternity, out of free, unconditioned, unrestricted, unmerited mercy. Whoever raises his eyes to Christ and beholds “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” finds hope amid change and decay, as disappointing as these days at the close of the year may be for many. Whoever rivets his attention on the Crucified finds no chain of conjectures, no combination of theories that are tried today and fail tomorrow, but the way to heaven, the evident truth to guide all men with unerring precision, and, above the gruesomeness of the grave, the pledge of an eternal life that lives on after death. These heavenly blessings—forgiven sins, hope and comfort in this life, and the pledge of never-ending happiness in the hereafter—are ours when we hear Christ’s invitation “Come unto Me” and come. Why, then, should there be any hush or silence in our lives concerning this priceless grace?
Remember, the destiny of our nation is directly involved in the silence or in the testimony of the Church concerning the all-compassionate Christ. I have repeatedly stated in these broadcasts that the supreme need of our nation in this vexatious hour is a deeper, purer, Christ-centered spiritual life; and I now repeat this truth in the face of the many programs gaining momentum as one failure topples upon another in alarming succession. We cannot legislate ourselves to permanent prosperity; we cannot socialize ourselves into a better era; we cannot buy ourselves into progress; we cannot think ourselves into the dawn of a happier day.
Picture this country if we would try Christ’s road to recovery, if every man, woman, and child within our borders were a Christian, if all the men who are charged with the direction of our national affairs, the administration of justice, and the execution of our laws were guided by the Spirit of Christ. The corruption that has made America a scandal among the nations, the bribery and dishonesty in American courts that have sometimes reduced justice to a mockery; the greed that has brought politicians and criminals together as partners in plunder; the commercialized vice, youthful immorality, the increase of marital infidelity, the growth of divorce and drunkenness, the pandering to animal appetites and perversions,—all these appalling sins help to bring the nation to the throes of the present crisis and even now rise heavenward, crying for divine punishment and intervention—sins that loom up before us in their annual guilt at the close of this year of grace could be removed if faith in Christ were to supplant unbelief.
There is only one way, under God, in which the heart of America can be turned to heaven, and that is by a momentous spiritual upheaval in the ranks of every church and by a resolute will on the part of every Christian to break the silence, to rise above the reticence of fear and worldliness. Think of it! A conservative estimate places the number of empty and deserted churches in our country at 8,000 and a more liberal figure at 25,000. A laymen’s organization in New York City some time ago investigated the annual reports of more than 11,000 churches in three large denominations and found that over 3,000 of these churches did not make a single convert. It has been claimed that altogether 60,000 of approximately 200,000 Protestant churches are dead, if the evidence of their decease is furnished by the fact that they recently recorded no annual increase in membership.
At this rate, America will never be won for Christ. Can you not see that what we need in American churches today is not a new architecture, but a new building of faith and loyalty in the Crucified; not new translations of the Bible, but a new application of the old missionary principles, the zeal and testimony of individual members that helped to spread the Gospel in the first Church; not new alliances with political organizations, but a realliance with the spiritual force that exalts forgiveness by the bleeding and dying of Christ; not new systems of church management and direction, but renewed emphasis upon the charter and purpose of all churches, the preaching of the Gospel for the saving of souls; not preachers with only human renown, but men of God with divine endorsement; not churches before legislatures with partisan programs, but the Church before the hearts and souls of men with the demand: “Repent! Ye must be born again!” and the promise: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In short, unless the Church is to plead guilty to the capital crime of failing in this crisis, we must have a body of believers that will break the deadening silence by which the Cross of Christ has been hushed out of many churches, homes and lives,—a great and growing number of American Christians who will “shout the glad tidings” and “exultingly sing.”
OUR FAITH DEMANDS CHRISTIAN TESTIMONY!
How are Christ’s followers to break this silence? How else than by following the example of the shepherds, who, having seen Christ, “made known abroad the saying . . . concerning this Child.” It was no longer a “silent night, holy night” for them, after they had worshiped at Bethlehem. “Holy,” true, but not “silent”; for with one accord, as they returned to their flocks, they testified at every opportunity to the miracle of the Christ-child.
A profound truth is taught by the fact that the first missionaries of Christ were shepherds, humble men from the lower strata of society. If God had placed the affairs of the first Christmas into our hands, the stable of Bethlehem would have been supplanted by the pillared halls of a royal palace, the young mother from Nazareth would have been a regal princess, and the first missionaries not rustic folk who herded sheep, but churchmen from the Temple’s Holy of Holies. In selecting shepherds as the first human heralds of the new-born Christ, our heavenly Father emphasized, at the beginning of Gospel history, the basic truth of personal missionary duty which its last pages stress in the command of the ascending Christ: “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.” In the Church of the New Testament the missionary privileges and responsibilities are not restricted to bishops and priests, preachers and teachers, ministers and missionaries; the duty of testifying to the grace and the power of the “name that is above every name” devolves upon all Christians beyond the power of release and exemption. They are “a royal priesthood.”
The shepherds centered their message about the Christchild. They might have discussed the inhospitality of the innkeeper and started a popular agitation for the regulation of Judean inns. Much in the spirit of the modern pulpit, they might have spoken on the young mother, isolated in the stable, and urged immediate enactment of maternal relief legislation. They might have discoursed on a dozen other subjects, but they focused their message on the Child. We, too, must learn to overcome that reluctance which makes us hesitate to discuss with our fellow-men the most vital issue in their lives, the relation of their immortal preciously bought souls to God. I ask you as we are joined in worship by the mysteries of radio communication whether you are testifying, breaking the silence concerning Christ in the lives of your fellow-men. Don’t think of missionary work exclusively in terms of China and India, but realize that God would not have called His followers to be witnesses unless they were surrounded by those in whose hearts and lives Jesus plays no part. In a land of 60,000,000 and more unchurched souls, hundreds are dying every day because many who are called Christians close their eyes and seal their lips. My direct appeal to you is the plea that before this day draws to its close, you will take this opportune time and go to some one in your relationship and acquaintance who needs the message of the Christchild and in His name testify to saving grace and truth.
Don’t say that you are not qualified to speak of Christ. The Twelve who took up the Savior’s battle against the mighty Roman Empire were men of little learning and no scholarly attainments. The apostle’s promise still holds: “The weakness of God is stronger than men”; and God has given us the same promise with which He endowed His apostles, the pledge of the Spirit’s never-failing guidance to help us by placing words on our lips and by lending force and conviction to our weak utterances. Don’t say that you have no time; for all who realize that the Savior lived on this earth more than a third of a century to bring salvation to our souls, all who know how carelessly time is squandered in this age of much leisure, will refuse to plead false excuses and will make time for the Savior. With your vision directed to the Christ as He hallows His way from Bethlehem to Calvary, with the command of Jesus ringing in your ears, “Preach ye upon the housetops,” testify to Christ! Resolve with the apostles: “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
We, too, as living, walking advertisements of the Cross, can make known abroad the Savior’s love. You will recall that the loyalty and determination in the lives of the first followers of Christ gave them and us the noble title “Christian”; that one of the powerful factors in the growth of the early Church was the strength of conviction exhibited by the faithful who suffered horrible persecutions. In all ages of the Church even an unbelieving world has stopped in awe and admiration to pay its tribute to those Christians who have let their light so shine that men, beholding their good works, glorified their heavenly Father.
God knows, and you and I know, particularly as this twelvemonth of grace draws to its close and we prepare to audit the book of our life for this year, that in the weakness of our earthbound existence and in the soul conflict between the God-given impulses to exalted and helpful ideals and debasing, sensuous, hell-born desires, we too frequently succumb to the sordid, demoralizing appetites of our human nature.
To overcome the temptations of life, to rise to the higher discipleship in Christ, to become a voice that can cry out into the desert of many lives, I ask you to take the sword of God’s Word and daily to meditate in His warnings and in His love; I ask you to learn the power and promise of prayer; I ask you to center your faith and hope in the Cross.
Let us, before the Christmas season departs, once more behold the Christ-child in the same faith with which the shepherds regarded Him as their Savior, and having seen Him, let us, too, make known abroad the saying which has been told to us concerning this Child, the climax of the “hopes and fears of all the years.” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.