It was May of 1988 and I recited this poem before an auditorium full of teachers, parents, and my graduating classmates:
‘Twas The Night Before Jesus Came
‘Twas the night before Jesus came and all through the house
Not a creature was praying, not one in the house
Their Bibles were lain on the shelf without care
In hopes that Jesus would not come there.
The children were dressing to crawl into bed.
Not once ever kneeling or bowing a head.
And Mom in her rocker with baby on her lap
Was watching the Late Show while I took a nap.
When out of the East there arose such a clatter.
I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash!
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But angels proclaiming that Jesus was here.
With a light like the sun sending forth a bright ray
I knew in a moment this must be THE DAY!
The light of His face made me cover my head
It was Jesus! returning just like He had said.
And though I possessed worldly wisdom and wealth,
I cried when I saw Him in spite of myself.
In the Book of Life which He held in His hand
Was written the name of every saved man.
He spoke not a word as He searched for my name;
When He said “it’s not here” my head hung in shame.
The people whose names had been written with love
He gathered to take to His Father above.
With those who were ready He rose without a sound.
While all the rest were left standing around.
I fell to my knees, but it was too late;
I had waited too long and thus sealed my fate.
I stood and I cried as they rose out of sight;
Oh, if only I had been ready tonight.
In the words of this poem the meaning is clear;
The coming of Jesus is drawing near.
There’s only one life and when comes the last call
We’ll find that the Bible was true after all!
I was one of the student speakers at the 1988 baccalaureate service at Auburn High School in Rockford, Illinois. One of the other scheduled speakers unexpectedly couldn’t make it to the service, so I ended up going last. I started my speech by congratulating the Class of ’88 (full disclosure: I should’ve graduated in ’87 but was held back in the fourth grade). Then I shared a little about my faith in God, performed an updated version of the parable of the Prodigal Son, and concluded with a reading of “Twas the Night Before Jesus Came.” It was well received, and I recall many people were moved by the service. But 20 years later, I’m having second thoughts.
As I reviewed “Twas the Night Before Jesus Came” the other day, in preparation for a reading at a work Christmas program, I was struck by how harsh it must’ve sounded to some of the people in that Auburn High audience back in ’88. Thinking back on that event, I honestly don’t think I recited it with a spirit of judgment or condemnation; I simply wanted to impress upon my classmates and teachers our need for salvation through Jesus Christ.
In retrospect, if I had it to do over, I don’t think I’d use that poem. Instead, I think I’d want to share something that spoke more of the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age. Or perhaps it’s just that I see more clearly my own desperate need of God’s mercy and grace. In any case, rather than the “fire and brimstone” treatment, I’d like to leave folks with a glimpse of God’s great love.
Certainly, “Twas the Night Before Jesus Came” is a clever little piece, playing off of Clement Moore’s classic story. Jesus is coming again someday, and the poem is a jarring reminder to get ourselves ready. Still, I wonder if there might’ve been a better way for me to share my passion that night. Many of the people in the auditorium that evening didn’t so much need to hear about the Second Coming of Christ as much as they needed to hear about his First Coming—how God loved us so much that he humbled himself to become a man so that he might save us from our sins and give us new life.
On this Christmas Eve, as I think about God’s wonderful gift to us, I pray that we’ll all experience his love and grace anew. Merry Christmas, everyone.