December 23, 2016
This is my favorite verse of my favorite Christmas Carol! Notice: In Isaiah 9, before the Christmas verse that we’re all familiar with, Yahweh prophesied through the prophet,
“The people who walked in darkness have SEEN A GREAT LIGHT!”
Christmas Musings #1 (continued) Third verse (not the same as the first).
Hail the heav’n born prince of peace!
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild 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 newborn King!”
There’s a significant mistake that a lot of people make when printing the words to the third verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” I don’t know if the misspelling occurred when Charles Wesley originally wrote it (I doubt it – he was very careful with Scripture) or in subsequent printings of the lyrics (probably that). The problem comes in the second line – it is often written as “Hail the Son of Righteousness” instead of the proper rendering: “Hail the Sun of Righteousness.”
Now I know what you’re thinking – what difference does it make? And why would Wesley call Jesus a “Sun” when He is the “Son”? Well, it does make a significant difference for two significant reasons: One – Jesus is never referred to as the “Son of Righteousness” in the entire Bible (and, anyway, what does that title MEAN?) He’s the Son of God, He’s the Son of Man, He’s the Son of David, and the Righteous One (in Isaiah 53 and 1 John), but He’s not called the Son of Righteousness. And, two – that reference is in the Bible and is explained in the next two lines. Look at the last book in the Old Testament, the prophecy of Malachi. Chapter 4, which is, not incidentally, the last chapter in the Old Testament, starts like this in the English Standard Version:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 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. 3 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.
This is a blessed promise of the Messiah! The coming Deliverer is called the “sun of righteousness” because He is like the sun in two ways. He brings burning judgment to “all the arrogant and all evildoers” or “the wicked”, just like the sun burns and destroys things. But to those who love Him, He is like the sun to plants – He brings light and life! He gives warmth, also, representing His love for His own. So, just like the sun is both destructive and life-giving, so is the Messiah. And He “shall rise with healing in [His] wings.” Jesus will not only bring light, life, and warmth, but He will bring “healing” – maybe a reference to the tender, loving ministry of healing Jesus had during His years ministering all over Israel and beyond. It reminds me of the image of a mother hen that Jesus used to express how He wanted to treat the city of Jerusalem as He wept over it shortly before He was crucified.
But that’s not all. Did you ever notice this from Isaiah 9?:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
That’s verse 2. Verse 6 is the prophecy of the Messiah that is very familiar to us – “Unto us a child is born…” The whole section is on the Coming One. So, as the prophecy begins, Isaiah uses the analogy of the dawn to represent the Messiah’s arrival. In other words, He’s like the rising of the sun! He brings hope for a new day! Simply amazing! Listen to Isaiah’s prophecy, again, in Chapter 60, verses 1 through 3:
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
3 And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
This is another promise of future blessing on the people of God. The Promised One will arise like the sun and enlighten Jerusalem when He, one day, comes to be their King.
But that’s still not all! John starts his gospel with declaring Jesus – the Word – to be the Creator. But he then says: “In Him was life, and the life was the light that enlightens every man.” (John 1: 4, 5) Jesus later calls Himself “the Light of the world”.
In John 8:2, the Scripture says: Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As the light, He brings, not only life – spiritual life; regeneration – but He brings revelation. He lets us see spiritual truths, as the sun’s light lets us see physical reality. Light was the first thing that God spoke into existence, after creating the “heavens and the earth.” God is represented as light throughout the Old Testament (as discussed earlier, light was what God used to represent His presence in the new Temple that Solomon was dedicating.
This image of Jesus as light continues throughout the New Testament. In fact, in the very last chapter of the Bible, we are told something pretty remarkable about the eternal state. In the new heavens and the new earth, there will be no darkness! In verse 5, the last verse in the last section describing the New Jerusalem:
“And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
Jesus Himself will be the light of eternity!
So the next time you see the lyrics printed “Hail the Son of Righteousness!”, correct it (OK – don’t write in a hymnbook unless it’s your own!) to “Hail the SUN of Righteousness!” And give the Righteous One the glory He deserves!