Bask in the Sunshine
A sermon based on Malachi 4:1-6
Sunday, December 10, 2017 – Advent 3B
I was dating this cute blond girl back in college. Things were getting pretty serious and she invited me to her parent's place one summer break. I agreed and enjoyed getting to know them see where she grew up. So one day she took me to a nearby lake where we spent the day canoeing and picnicking. And I remember it being sunny and hot. Now, I was in a little better shape back then and didn't mind taking my shirt off the way I do now. But that was a mistake. You see, I didn't think twice about sunscreen. And if you know anything about me and my family, you know that we're pretty pasty. The sunburn I had that afternoon was terrible. I was as red as a lobster. And I was in pain. (What a great impression "lobster boy" must have left on her parents.)
And I didn't learn from that incident either. I can't tell you how many times in North Carolina I went golfing or just to the park with the boys and came back bright red and in great pain. When the sun shines with any amount of intensity, when there's no cloud cover, I burn like a vampire. So Alaska is a pretty good fit for me.
In our sermon text for this 3rd Sunday in Advent, the prophet Malachi compares the coming of the Savior to the rising of the sun. For many it will be too intense. They will burn. And they will more than just blister in the sun, they will be set on fire, they will turn to ash. But for those who are ready, for those who put their trust in the Savior, they will bask in the warm glow of the sun. And they will leap for joy on that day. Our text for consideration this morning is found in Malachi 4:1-6…
"Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the Lord Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things," says the Lord Almighty.
4 "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."
I still remember my 6th grade art teacher coming to school one day and beginning our lesson by saying, "Don't stare. I know I look gross. I got burned. Deal with it. Any questions?" We had none. Mrs. Schacht did actually go on to explain that she had been hiking on Mount Rainier on a sunny day that weekend. Not only was the sun shining down on her, but the sun was also reflecting up off the snow. It was double the amount of sun. She forgot the sunscreen and her sunburn was bad. Her face was blistered and peeling everywhere except the rings around both eyes where her sunglasses protected her.
Well, my burn on the canoe with Becky and Mrs. Schacht's much worse burn on Mt. Rainer… those were nothing in comparison to the burn that's going to hit "all the arrogant and every evildoer" on the Last Day. When Jesus comes in judgment… that day "will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the Lord Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them… they will be ashes…"
Hmmm… the arrogant… the evildoer….? Ever been arrogant? Ever thought you knew better than everyone else? Ever thought you knew better… than God? Sure you have. Every time you've sinned, you've told God that his ways were not as wise as your ways. And is there anything more arrogant than that? Ever done evil? Well… not if you just call murder, rape, and terrorism evil. But if you call evil what God calls evil… lust… hatred… pride… greed… speaking an unkind or impatient word… Well, there's just no denying that you and I are evil.
And so there's also no denying that we deserve to blister and peel and to burn in the furnace of hell and be set on fire forever. We deserve to be eternally turned into stubble and ashes. We deserve to be struck with a curse on the day that God judges all mankind; that day that is surely coming.
But, God in his grace, loves us too much to see us burn. So he did something about it. He sent his messengers "before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes…"
Do you know what the name Malachi means? It means "my messenger." And the whole book of Malachi is kind of a pun then. God prophesied through Malachi ("my messenger") that he would send a messenger (God's "Malachi") to prepare the way for the Messenger (the Malachi) of his grace. So God sent the prophet Malachi and a new Elijah (which the New Testament makes clear is John the Baptist) to prepare the way for the coming Savior. And that's exactly what they did. They proclaimed a message of law and gospel, of sin and grace, of repentance and forgiveness. And they proclaimed a message about Jesus.
Here after Malachi prophesies the terrible fate of "all the arrogant and every evildoer" he goes on to say, "But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings [or rays]. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall."
Now, I don't want to squabble with the translators of the New International Version, but I think a better translation of this verse would read, "But for you who revere my name, the Sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings," (and I would capitalize the "S" in Sun,) because I think it's obvious who this Sun of Righteousness is—it's Jesus.
Just as a sunrise dispels the darkness, so Jesus, the Light of the World, drove out the darkness before him. He drove out the darkness of sin by taking it all on himself. And as the sin hit him on the cross, it was burned up! We are sinless! He drove out the darkness of hell by enduring hell on the cross. The eternal flames of hell were extinguished for all who revere God's name. We will never endure its flames! And de drove out the darkness of despair on Easter morning. As death hit him, it was consumed! We will live forever!
So, in a sense, Jesus is our Son-screen. (That's S-O-N-screen.) He screens us from the burning of his wrath on Judgment Day by taking that wrath on himself. We are screened and safe.
You know, I'm not the only pasty white person in my family. When we first brought Josiah home from the hospital, and then Jacob, both of them were sun-deprived too. They were both a sickly yellow with jaundice. The doctors told us that they needed "phototherapy," which is a fancy way of saying, get their skin exposed to the sun. After a week or two of laying on the floor in sunny spot in the room wearing nothing but a diaper, they were both just fine. You see, the same sun that burns, can also be the sun that heals.
So too with Jesus. The One that will burn like a furnace to "all the arrogant and every evildoer" setting them on fire and turning them to stubble and ash… that same One will rise with healing in his rays to make us just as righteous as he is. Thank God for that Son-screen! Now we bask in the Son like we bask in the sunshine on a warm vacation day. We rejoice! As well-fed calves released from the barn leap for joy, our hearts leap within us in joy for what our God has done for us and guaranteed for our future.
And we thank God now by telling others about that Son-screen! You are a "Malachi"; God's messenger. And you can start with your own family! "Turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…" Proclaim that message of law and gospel, of sin and grace, of repentance and forgiveness. Proclaim the message about Jesus. Tell them what a terrible burn is coming without protection; a burn that will totally consume for all of eternity. Then tell them how Jesus is our Son-screen who keeps us safe for eternity. And bask in the Son-shine, dear friends, as you rejoice in his grace. In Jesus' name, amen.