I hope you’ve booked your seat, or bookmarked the livestream link, for one of our many carol services this year. Even though we are unable to sing in church ourselves, we can delight in the timeless truths that our choirs will proclaim to us in words and music.
Each carol service ends with the choir singing ‘Hark! The herald-angels sing’. The third verse begins like this
Hail, the heaven-born prince of Peace! Hail, the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings.
I bet you’ve sung those words dozens of times: I wonder how often you’ve asked yourself what on earth they mean?
Wesley is quoting the prophet Malachi:
But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings
But this is Christmas. This isn’t ‘son’ with an ‘o’, this is ‘sun’ with a ‘u’ - and it’s flying. Why is it in a Christmas carol?
If you type ‘winged sun disc’ into your favourite search engine, you can enjoy the thousands of pictures of the Egyptian Sun God, who found its, his or her way into most of the religious iconography of the Ancient Near East. The image has maintained its popularity even into the corporate life of our own day: go back to that search engine and type ‘Chrysler logo’ and gape in awe at the updated versions of the winged sun disc that you find there.
The point – most scholars think – is that the winged sun god is a symbol of power, protection, judgement. What’s different for Malachi is that this God rises above his creation to bring, not judgment, but mercy – healing.
As we hear the exciting news of efficacious vaccines, and the hope which that may bring to millions, we are rightly thankful for brilliant scientists, clinicians, key workers and volunteers. But we are conscious too of the need for different kinds of healing. I have spent much of this year ministering to those whose mental health has suffered through loneliness, distress, and bereavement. I was in that number, and perhaps you were too.
Here is news to be really thankful for: that we celebrate the coming of one whose birth brings healing. Resurrection healing: the word ‘risen’ at the start of the fourth line, even in the winter of our suffering souls, points to Easter – Light, and Life.