Fire can be both friend and foe. An uncontrolled blaze can consume whole houses, forests, and cities. But keep it under control, and fire is a toasty warm companion on a cold winter’s night. Fire can terrify, or it can soothe. It can make us flee in fear, or lead us to frolic in its warmth.
In our first reading, the prophet Malachi preached about 430 years before Christ. Malachi tells us something that’s both terrifying and comforting: the coming Day of the Lord. “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.” (Mal. 4:1-2). When the Lord’s Savior comes, it’s both a day to dread and a day to welcome. It brings a consuming, raging fire, and it brings soothing, healing warmth.
The Day of the Lord is coming. God has told us through the prophet Malachi. So, you’d better watch out. You might want to cry. I don’t think pouting will do you any good, though. And here’s why: the Day of the Lord is coming. That news should strike fear into the depths of your soul. You should tremble right where you sit. This message should give each of us a swift kick in our complacency. The Day of the Lord’s coming will burn like a furnace, indeed like the blazes of hell. What will the Lord burn? All the stubble. All the proud and arrogant. Every evildoer. Yes, that means you and me!
“But, Pastor, how can you call us ‘proud and arrogant’? How can you call us ‘evildoers’? After all, we’re Christians!” True, we are Christians, God’s chosen, redeemed people. Yet, we still fall into arrogant presumption. If worship or Bible classes do not meet our exacting, personal standards and taste, what’s our first thought? “Eh, I can take it or leave it.” Then we might very well just up and leave. Another claim is: “I’m too busy for church.” Perhaps “brother blanket” and “sister pillow” keep some people “too busy.” Perhaps worship at the shopping malls keeps some people “too busy.” But all of this is merely saying, “I’m too busy for God”! When you turn God and worship in His house into just another appointment in your already over-booked schedule—and too often less important than many other appointments—then you are guilty of arrogant presumption.
Now don’t try to deflect this fiery blaze onto someone else. It’s coming after you—the proud, the evildoers. Yes, you and I must wear those titles. Apart from Christ that’s what each one of us is: sinfully arrogant and nothing but evildoer. The virus of sin gives each of us the fever of arrogant pride. That’s what flares up when you don’t see eye to eye with your spouse, your parent, your child, your co-worker, or your friend. In your arrogant pride you try to put yourself just a notch or two above the other person. You see, because of our sinful state, everything we do is evil. Even the actions that look good to other people; they are still evil to God.
Don’t think these pews will protect you. They’re only dry wood, and you know what happens to dry wood in the fire. Don’t think having your name on a congregational roster will protect you either. Paper has a lovely way of starting a fire. You can even pile up all the good deeds you do at home or at work or at school. You can throw in all the times you’ve “been to church.” You can add in every moment, every thought, every word that you told yourself, “I’ve been pretty good today.” Put it all in a pile. But it’s only kindling, starter wood. The fire will consume it. As Malachi says, “it will leave them neither root nor branch.”
Pretty sobering, eh? Are you feeling a bit warm right now? Why wait until the Day of the Lord? He’s burning the stubble of your sin right here and right now!
“But for you who fear [the LORD’s] name,” the Day of the Lord brings another kind of heat. “The Sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in [His} wings.” The sun in the sky can scorch, but it’s rays can also soothe and warm. Everyone just seems to know that a bright, warm, sunshiny day is very therapeutic. Just notice how everyone walks down the street with a bit more spring in their stride
The “sun” that Malachi foretold, however, is not the big fiery ball in the sky. The Sun of Righteousness is, in fact, a Person–the Son of God. His bright, shiny rays bring righteousness and healing from sin’s cancer. Jesus calls Himself the “bright Morning Star” in Revelation 22(:16). Jesus also refers to Himself as a physician, one who brings healing. Remember these words from Jesus’ lips: ““Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick [do].” He even explained what He meant: “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners [to repentance].” (Matt. 9:12-13).
Jesus came for sinners—for you, for me. Only the arrogant think they need no physician. Only the arrogant think they have no sickness. Only the arrogant think they have no sins and need not repent. Sinners, though, receive Christ’s healing by receiving His cross-won forgiveness. The Sun of Righteousness rises on you with healing in His wings. He shined especially bright on Good Friday, when He was lifted up on the cross. You never would have known that the sun was shining. Darkness came over the land for three gloomy hours. It seemed as if the sun in the sky went out when the Son of God died. But on that Day of the Lord, the Son of God burned the stubble of your sin and healed you, the sinner.
And then the sun rose bright and glorious and victorious on the third day. Then the Son of God revealed that He came not only to die, but also to bring life and immortality to light. Then the bright Morning Star displayed the real healing in His wings: forgiveness instead of judgment; eternal life instead of eternal death.
And the warmth of the Sun of Righteousness still comes to you today. As God’s holy patients, Lord Jesus wants you to treasure His healing medicine—the Gospel Word put into your ears, the baptismal water poured over you, the sacramental Body and Blood put into your mouth. Physician Jesus uses these medicines to give you His healing. Yes, the cancer of sin keeps plaguing you, day in and day out, with all the doubts and all the presumption. But as you stay on Jesus’ medicines, the Lord Himself gives you healing.
Now we move to a new picture, a scene of frolicking freedom: “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” When a calf is released from the stall, it cannot help but run and leap and frolic with joy. It enjoys its new-found freedom from captivity. When you, a sinner, are released from your sin and guilt before God, released from your slavery to proud arrogance, released from death itself, you cannot help but enjoy the healing, the freedom, the new life. You run around. You leap. You bask in the Son’s rays of righteousness and forgiveness. You enjoy life. You celebrate the Savior’s birth with gusto come December 24 and 25. You frolic in His forgiveness.
And your frolicking shows. Enjoying your Savior Jesus with His Gospel and Sacraments is the best “evangelism program” there is! When you are forgiven and given healing, why not tell others the great news? Why not bring others to Jesus for His warm, soothing, eternal healing? If a doctor completely cured you of leukemia, wouldn’t you want to tell your friend who also has leukemia? How much more when it comes to the healing of the soul? After all, the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus the Christ, brings healing for your family and friends too. He wants them to come and receive His healing medicines too.
Yes, in just a couple of weeks you will frolic in the righteous Son’s forgiveness. Of that I have no doubt. In fact, you will join the heavenly choir and sing all about it. You will cry, “Hark! The herald angels sing….” And you will sing these great words:
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. (LSB 380:3)