Merry Christmas! I hope and pray that you have seen and known more of God through the reading of His Word this year. As you sing and celebrate the coming of Jesus, here is a segment (rather long, but worth it!) of a sermon from Malachi (our final Old Testament reading for today) that helps to explain the third verse of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing!”
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His Wings.
Now He lays His Glory by,
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the New-born king!”
But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall. Malachi 4:2
When John the Baptist’s father prophesied in Luke 1:78, he alluded to this verse and said that with the coming of Jesus the day was dawning from on high. The sun of righteousness was rising. And he has been rising all over this world ever since. And one day his rise will reach its noonday brightness and he will appear in glory and the final division between the believing and unbelieving will be made.
Five Pictures of What the Coming of Jesus Means
But for those who fear the Lord—who wake up from their indifference or rebellion against him and honor him with trust and allegiance—what does the coming of the Lord mean?
What does it mean for you today if you are a biblical Christian? What could it mean for you if you would be?
Five pictures from verse 2:
- A rising sun
- Beams of righteousness
- Wings of healing
- Breaking out of a stall
- Leaping like calves
1. A Rising Sun
That means at least four things. I’ll mention only two (omitting: warmth where there was cold, and growth where there was atrophy).
Light Where There Was Darkness
He brings light where there was darkness. And when you have light, you can see. Jesus helps us see things like they really are. He makes sense out of things. He said to Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” And Pilate mocked him and said, as though he lived in the twentieth century, “What is truth?”
That is the tragic and cynical cry of our age: What is truth! Not because there’s a passion for truth, but because there is so much skepticism that any such thing exists. And the effect of this skepticism and relativism is moral and intellectual and personal and family bankruptcy. Why do many families come apart? Because they have no anchor of truth. The husband and father has no clear vision of why he or his children exist. And so all he can do is pass on a few tips for how to make more money or stay healthy. And the emptiness gets deeper and deeper with each unbelieving generation.
But Jesus is the light of the world. He brings sense and meaning out of absurdity.
Security Where There Was Danger
The second thing implied by his being a rising sun is that he brings security where there was danger. When it is dark, there is more danger because you can’t see the path in front of you. You might fall off a cliff or trip over a log or bang your head against a branch.
When the sun finally rises, you can move with security. That’s the way it is with Jesus. He points the way to go again and again. He shows up the danger and the foolishness of many choices before we make them. He guards us from many evil forces that only have power in the dark.
So when Jesus comes into the world, he comes as a sun: he is light in the darkness of confusion and ignorance and skepticism. He gives a fixed point of truth in a world where every standard seems to have come unglued. And in doing this, he guards us from destroying our lives and keeps us safe.
2. Beams of Righteousness
Which means that Jesus makes things right. He makes man right with God through reconciliation. He makes man right with man through grace and humility and patience and love. And in the end, he will make right all the wrongs that his people have suffered, so that we don’t have to carry the burden of indignation and revenge.
If you look at the incredible injustices in the world today, and see people suffering when they seem innocent and prospering when they seem wicked, Jesus gives an answer: where he is trusted, he can reconcile and restore; where he’s not, he will have the last word in the judgment.
3. Wings of Healing
This sun of righteousness rises with healing in its wings.
I can remember the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean nineteen years ago this week. Noël and I were on our honeymoon. We were up early one morning and saw how it happens on the rim of the ocean.
A thin line of orange and red appears along the water. Then it intensifies, brighter and brighter, and you see the brightness focusing more and more on the center of the line, until the flaming ball surges up out of the water. And then you watch it rise up, and in a sense it brings that whole red line on the rim of the water up into the air as though the sun had wings.
When Malachi saw that, God told him: the coming of the Messiah will be like that and the effect of his beauty will be healing. And Jesus was a great healer. All I have time to say now is that though Jesus does not heal every disease in this life, he will heal every disease in the resurrection. In other words Jesus meets the tremendous need we all feel for hope beyond the grave—that all sickness and pain and sorrow and crying will be gone forever.
4. Breaking Out of a Stall
The coming of Jesus means freedom not bondage. I remember talking to a thoughtful young woman a few years ago about my sermons on Christian Hedonism and whether I really believed joy was what all people were really after. I asked her what made her tick. And she said, “For me freedom seems more basic.”
I wouldn’t want to minimize that deep longing in our hearts for freedom. It is real and it is essential to all joy. And Jesus promises to give it. Until he comes, we are all in a real sense trapped and bound in the stall. We might party all day long; but we will never know the freedom for which we were made as long as we are in the stall—until Jesus sets us free.
5. Leaping Like Calves
But I stand by my Christian Hedonism of those days because the fifth image from verse 2 is that when the sun of righteousness rises with healing in his wings and we are set free from the stall of bondage, we will not merely walk, or run; we will leap like calves.
In other words freedom is the necessary condition of leaping joy. Jesus said once (Luke 6:22–23), “Blessed are you when men hate you . . . Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven.”…
The True Meaning of Christmas
That is the meaning of Christmas: Jesus comes
- to give light and truth where there was darkness and confusion,
- to set things right where they were wrong,
- to give healing where there was sickness and brokenness,
- to give freedom where there was bondage,
- and to give calf-life joy where there was dreariness and fear.