Sermon: “The Sun of Righteousness” (November 13, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:1-2a)
November 13, 2016
Philip Ryan

My eyes shot open, my heart was pounding, and I jumped out of bed barely missing running into the door. It was one of those moments that terrifies parents. You are woken up because your child is not crying but screaming. Whatever is going on is serious. I rush into Greta’s room and she’s sitting there in the dark, sobbing. She’s crying so hard that when I sit on her bed to give her a hug her whole body is shaking and my shirt is instantly soaked under the weight of her tears. I can’t console her either; she’s too worked up. I crawl into her bed and hold her for several minutes before she finally calms down.
I ask her, “What was the matter?”
“I had a bad dream,” she says still shaky.
“You know it wasn’t real, right?”
“I know” she mumbles.
“What do we say when we get bad dreams?”
“That’s wasn’t real. Jesus’ got me.” She says and she finally cracks a little smile.
“That’s right. Did something else scare you?”
Shaking her head yes, she pointed to her dresser and informed me that a monster had been crawling on it. As we laid in the dark, she continued to point out things and ask, “What’s that daddy?” It was usually her chair, a book, the lamp, the dress she was wearing the next day. But in the darkness she was gripped by fear so that she couldn’t see things clearly, everything was out to get her. Sadly, these nightmares went on for the next week or so. We eventually decided to try a night light. We bought one and told Greta we were putting a little light in her room so she could see at night. Greta was so excited! We got her ready for bed and Greta turned on her nightlight. The next morning, Greta slept through the night, at breakfast Greta said, “Thank you for the nightlight. It keeps away the bad dreams.” My daughter’s fears were of course real and legitimate. Darkness has always scared humanity because if we can’t see then we don’t know if there is danger coming at us. The Prophet Malachi whom we heard from this morning was writing to a people stuck in uncertainty, fear, and anger. They were not in physical darkness but a time where God seemed to be absent, which is the equivalent of darkness. The Lord speaking through Malachi reminds the people that not only does he remember them and hear them, but he is sending “the sun of righteousness” to illuminate and heal them.

Who is this “sun of righteousness” who rises with healing in his wings? The Bible associated images of sun, light, fire, with the coming of God’s anointed. One of Isaiah’s passages describing the coming of Jesus begins, “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” (Isaiah 9:2). Luke would begin his gospel describing John the Baptist’s ministry as preparing the way for the “the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79). In John’s gospel Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Finally, when the new heavens and the new earth come, the book of Revelation says there will be no need for sun or moon because “Night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (Revelation 22:5).  Jesus is the light of God who drives away all darkness. His light brings hope, salvation, healing, power, and grace to a world shrouded in the darkness of despair, pain, sadness, terror, and fear.

But Jesus isn’t the only person described as being light in the Bible. Israel was called to be a light to her surrounding nations so that salvation may reach the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). During his great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to be the light of the world, so that we can help extend salvation, deliverance, and hope to others, leading them to glorify God (Matthew 5:14-16). Finally, in John’s first epistle, he says, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Because Jesus is the true light, we are called to reflect his salvation and glory in the world.

We live in a world that is illuminated with artificial light. Electricity, computer screens, cars, cell phones, etc all make it hard for us to imagine complete darkness. The occasional blackout from a storm or power shortage might remind us of how dependent we are but it is always restored and we forget. However, it is not hard to see that we are in a constant state of figurative, but no less real, darkness. We are on alert because terrorists have harmed us, natural disasters seem to get worse, the economy has been shaky, and I don’t need to remind us all of our political and civil rhetoric. How are we to be light in the darkness of our world? As usual, the best advice is to follow Jesus. Love others with reckless love like Christ loved you and you will spread the light of God’s kingdom. Speak truth in the midst of misinformation, bullying, and vitriolic speech and you will spread the light of God’s kingdom. By a peacemaker in the middle of a conflict and you will spread the light of God’s kingdom. And when it gets hard, and you feel like giving up, and you think I am more of a birthday candle about to give up remember that you are the light because of Jesus. The sun of righteousness is what gives you the power to be light and his light, “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5)  Amen.