Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hail the Sun of Righteousness

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
(Beginning lines of 3rd stanza of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing")

One Christmas carol that is much beloved has been the hymn "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Proclaiming the glories of the incarnate God-man, this song has an upbeat melody appropriate for celebrating the birth of the Messiah, a tune which, unlike many older tunes, has managed to transcend the worship wars altogether.

It has however come to my surprise that some modern renditions of this classic hymn has subtly changed the lyrics. In the second line of the third stanza, the original wording is "Hail the Sun of Righteousness," while the altered wording has "Hail the Son of Righteousness." Obviously, the new wording is in some sense easier to understand, but that is rather besides the point. The point is that whoever did the alteration has given no indication whatsoever that he understands the original intent of the words and its allusion to biblical texts, which is sad considering how much richer the meaning of the original wording is.

The beginning lines of the third stanza allude to a certain verse in the "obscure" Minor Prophets, namely Malachi 4:2

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.

As the third line in the third stanza states, Christ is risen "with healing in His wings," an expression that clearly comes from Malachi 4:2. The clauses in the beginning lines of stanza 3 were meant to point to Jesus as the "Sun of Righteousness" who fulfills Malachi 4:2. Jesus is the Sun of Righteousness bringing healing to the people. Jesus is the mediator who will bring salvation and healing in the Great Day of the Lord. Jesus is the one who will bring us along to tread the wicked under our feet and right all wrongs (Mal. 4:3).

By the slight alteration of one vowel, all of these are lost. Jesus is of course the Son of Righteousness, for He is perfectly righteous and God's only-begotten son. Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf. But Jesus is also the eschatological Lord of our salvation, and Malachi 4:2 reminds us of that. Jesus is not just the son of righteousness, but the Sun of Righteousness, bringing the rays of God's favor upon His people, in the day of wrath and judgment.

In any celebration of Christ's birth, let us not forget the "reason for the season." The climax of history is not the incarnation, but the cross. The goal of history is not the incarnation, but the Second Coming of Christ for His people. Both are important, so let us remember those even while others think only of the incarnation


James Berry said...

First off I just speed read everything you've posted since Hodge's systematic theology exerpt on reason. I just wanted to take a second and thank you for not only posting what you do--well said, and well researched-- but also how you keep up with the people who post comments. Frankly--in some cases at least (your blog on Ed silvoso namely was the first :) )--such comments were quite informative and entertaining. Merry Christmas to you and to your family, and may God continue to bless you and your blog, with fruitful insight, frankly courageous statements, and with humility towards your understanding--may it ever increase as you grow in your walk with Christ. Though I do not know you I appreciate you as a brother in Christ

PuritanReformed said...

Hi James,

thanks for your kind words. Merry Christmas and a blessed new year to you too.