“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this second Sunday in Advent is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fourth chapter of the prophet Malachi, the last words of the Old Testament. Dear friends in Christ: Behold, the day is coming, it is coming soon. We live in the light that precedes the dawn, at that moment when the darkness seems the deepest and yet the light begins to brighten the eastern sky. You know that time, the moment where we are suddenly awakened and do not know if it is the middle of the night or the beginning of the day. We sit up in bed, confused, wondering if the night is spent or if it has barely begun. That is where we dwell in these gray and latter days, in darkness so deep that it seems that it will never end, but yet with a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The day is coming, it is coming soon. The sun is rising; when, we do not know, but we do know that it will rise. We live our lives in the strange interplay of hopeful light and deepest darkness that comes right before the dawn. At that moment, we can rightly ask: Is the night ending, or is the day beginning? It’s really all a matter of perspective. How do we see the approaching of day? Do we welcome the light, or do we fear it? Is the night ending, or is the day beginning?
For the arrogant, the prideful, those who had confidence in themselves, the night is ending; the darkness that they reveled in is coming to a swift end. “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming will set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” They fear the coming of the day, they shudder from the very hint of light, from the rumor of sunrise, because God has warned them about the destruction that will come at dawn. They will be consumed, utterly destroyed, cursed forever. God will purge all evil from the land; nothing unclean, nothing wicked, will dwell in His perfect new creation, the land He promised to His people. The arrogant have no inheritance with Him, but will be cast into the fire, the fire that is not quenched, the home of the worm which does not die.
God doesn’t do this out of spite; He is not a capricious God, delighting in the destruction of people He created. Instead He graciously calls on the world to repent, to escape from the judgment that is to come. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” As Elijah the prophet called on the wicked kings of Israel to repentance, as John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy by calling the Jewish people to repentance, so the Church stands today, in the darkness before the dawn, as Elijah, calling the world to repentance. The Church warns all people that the dawn is coming, that the darkness they revel in will not last forever, and she calls on them to repent, to turn and welcome the light, to look forward to the day.
But the arrogant love the darkness more. The prideful are those who have been called out on their sin, who have been told that their behavior, their lifestyle, is wrong, but have refused to repent. The Church reminds the world of these words: “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” The prideful think they know better than Moses, who received the Law, and God, who gave it. They make their own rules and live by them. The arrogant are those who love their own pleasure more than they love their neighbor, more than they heed God’s Word. Those infected with pride look to their own accomplishments, their own bank account, the titles they hold, and they guard these accolades jealously. They make sure that those around them know their exalted position, that they receive the proper respect their money, or their office, or their accomplishments deserve. The arrogant are constantly looking for a slight, always ready to be offended, to break off relations with any who don’t view them as highly as they view themselves.
The preaching of Elijah was intended to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, but the arrogant have hearts turned in on themselves. The neighbor in need matters little unless they have something to give, some contribution to make to the storehouse of pride that dwells in their darkened hearts. The arrogant, the prideful, love the night; they would rather sit in darkness than welcome the light. And so they quite rightly fear the coming of the day; if they deny it will come it is because they are afraid that it will come, that God’s Word will be proven true.
The arrogant will see the light of dawn and in terror they will cry out that the night is ending; the humble will see the rays of sunshine and rejoice to proclaim that the day is beginning. For they heeded the call of Elijah; they repented, they turned from their sin in faith. The humble are not those who have kept all of the commandments perfectly, they are those who see themselves in the mirror of God’s holy Law and repent. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” The humble remember the Law by striving to live in accordance with it and repenting when they sin against it. The humble acknowledge that God is God and that they are not, and submit in obedience under His Word. Their lives are ordered by the Ten Commandments, but not in the arrogance of thinking they are made right with God by their obedience—for they know their sin—but instead knowing that they are made right with God despite their disobedience.
The arrogant refuse to repent, and thus refuse God’s deliverance from the destruction that the day will bring; either they think they have no need of salvation, or they think they can save themselves, foolishly counting on the worldly things they take pride in. The humble despair of themselves; they know they cannot achieve salvation on their own, that apart from God’s aid, apart from His salvation, the coming of the dawn inspires only fear. The humble know and confess that they are infected with the disease of sin, that they are wounded by the deeds of darkness. And God promises healing.
“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” Who is this sun, the sun that brings light into the world, whose coming is the coming of the dawn, the break of day? It is none other than God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. And how will Jesus bring the healing that all people need? Not by deeds of power, but by an act of humility. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” His wounds bring the humble healing, for He was pierced for the transgressions of all people, even for the arrogant, He was crushed for the iniquities of the nations, even those infected with pride. He came to bear the curse that God threatened for all who reject the preaching of Elijah. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” No one need fear the coming of the day; no one need be in terror for the arrival of the light. Jesus wants all people to receive His return with joy, to repent and believe—that’s why the Church calls the world, she calls you, to repentance.
See your sin and repent of it! Jesus died for all; He died for you. Repent of your sinful arrogance, repent of your pride. Repent and in humility know that you cannot save yourself, but that Christ has saved you. The humble fear God, not the coming of the day; they shun the darkness in repentance and welcome the light in faith. Look to that day not in fear, but with joy! “For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” The sun of righteousness rose early on Easter morning to heal you of the affliction of sin that clings to your bones, to even cure you of death. The sin, the sorrow, the suffering of this world will end; the sun who rose on Easter will rise on the day that is coming, and the night will be over, all evil will be no more. “And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.” When the day dawns, you will be set free from all that held you captive in the darkness of this world, and there you will have joy that is indescribable. “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” When the day dawns, you will realize that this world of sin and death was a locked cage, and now you are free. The long age of confinement will be over; the light has come, and night will be no more, for your Lord has returned in victory, just as He promised, and He has come to give to you a new body, a new creation, light forevermore.
Behold, the day is coming, it is coming soon. We live in the light that precedes the dawn, at that moment when the darkness seems the deepest and yet the light begins to brighten the eastern sky. The sun is rising; when, we do not know, but we do know that it will rise. At that moment, we can rightly ask: Is the night ending, or is the day beginning? It’s really all a matter of perspective. How do we see the approaching of day? Do we welcome the light, or do we fear it? We heard Jesus’ answer: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Because Jesus went from speaking those words to hanging on a cross, because He rose again in victory, because He has promised us that He will return again, we need not fear the coming of the dawn, but we lift up our heads in confidence, not in ourselves, but in the salvation He has given to us. The day is beginning, the day that will never end, the glorious day that we will have us leaping like calves released from the stall, forever. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.