Light and life to all he brings…
“Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings…”
These words from the third verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing helped inspire our theme of Light and Life for this year’s Advent Devotions. But it wasn’t until I went caroling with our young adults and youth this December that I noticed just how strange the second half of this line is: risen with healing in his wings? “Risen” sounds more like Easter than Christmas. “Wings” sound more like an angel than the human baby Jesus, God with us, that we celebrate. What’s going on here?
It turns out that these words are securely Scriptural. They come from a little line in the Prophet Malachi, on the very last page of the Old Testament: “For you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” (Mal. 4:2)
Here the line all comes together: like the rising of the sun with far-reaching rays that might as well be wings, full of warmth Jesus comes with outstretched arms, ready to embrace the entire world with the love of God.
Now the harsh reality is that these words from Malachi come in the course of judgement—with these words God is promising to come and judge the arrogant and the evil-doers for the sake of those who worship the Lord. No one will be able to escape his light and truth. But perhaps this is the perfect reminder of how surprising and upside down the Christmas story is: God doesn’t come as a harsh judge, but as a vulnerable baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths by a young mother and her likely scared partner. Perhaps this is why the next lines in the song are:
“Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that we no more may die,
Born to raise each child of earth,
Born to give us second birth.”
Laying aside the glory and blinding light of the righteous judge we might expect, this Bethlehem Baby is God’s dim light in a weary world. And this dim light brings not just judgement, but life, and to all. May the presence of God come to you tenderly and in surprising ways this Christmas. May the beams of Jesus’ light redirect our focus outward, toward all those who dwell in darkness with us, guiding our feet into the way of peace.
Hayden is a pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church. He lives in Davenport with his wife and two kids, and loves singing and listening to Christmas music.