This being the Christmas season, we’ve been singing Christmas carols at church. And like all good contemporary churches, the words are put up on a screen at the front of the sanctuary. We don’t even have hymnals, so that isn’t an option. Occasionally there are typos on the screen, and I’ve come to accept that. After all, no one is perfect. There is one typo however, that comes up at Christmas time, that I’m sure the person typing thought was right. It is in the carol, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! written by Charles Wesley in 1739. He wrote more than 6000 hymns in his lifetime, that were theologically sound and full of doctrine.
Interestingly, Charles Wesley didn’t take kindly to people changing the words of his hymns when they reprinted them. In one of his hymnals he wrote, “I beg leave to mention a thought which has been long upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome to do so, provided they reprint them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them, for they are really not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them these two favours: either to let them stand just as they are, to take things for better or worse, or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page, that we many no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or the doggerel of other men.”
The verse I'm referring to goes 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.
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.
Hark! The Herald Angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Did you figure out what word I’m talking about? Sun. I’m sure that many of you thought that it should read Son, didn’t you? You certainly wouldn’t be alone. If you were to Google this carol, you would find that Son beats out Sun by a ratio of about two to one on lyrics websites. Son seems to be the more logical choice, since we are talking about the birth of the Son of God. I’ve actually had a pastor tell me that Sun is a typo. But it isn’t!
The term Sun of Righteousness comes from Malachi 4:2. It is part of a divine revelation from God concerning the Day of Judgement. (Malachi 1:1, Malachi 3:16-18, Malachi 4:1) A time is coming when evil will be abolished, and all the arrogant evildoers, those who chose not to believe in God, will be burned to ashes. But for those who respect God, for those who have accepted His gift of love, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings. It is figurative language, with a parallel between the controlled burning of the furnace and the Sun. The burning furnace that will consume the wicked will bring destruction, but the Sun of Righteousness will bring warmth and healing. Like the centre of our own solar system, the Sun brings light and life.
Perhaps in these days of tolerating everyone’s beliefs, it makes people uncomfortable to talk about what will happen to those who will not accept Christ. I agree that it isn’t very pleasant to think about, but that does not mean that it won’t happen. God is a holy God, and the time will come when He will no longer tolerate those who do not trust in Him. He has made His existence and power very clear, (Romans 1:18-24) and He has given us the choice, but we must not kid ourselves about what the consequences of our choices will be. This is why the herald angels sang, “Glory to the newborn King!”