God’s Saving Love Stirs up My Heart
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text this evening is the First Reading from Malachi 4:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 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. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Praying the Collect of the Day can be meaningful. Each Sunday, and for that week, the collect is a prayer that collects the congregation’s petitions into one plea. Like a laser beam it focuses on one request. This prayer becomes your own by saying “Amen!” The Second Sunday in Advent’s collect is beautiful:
“Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds” (LSB).
Stir up our hearts, O Lord! Wake them up! It’s so easy for our hearts to be weighed down. Jesus warned: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day [that is, Judgment Day] come upon you suddenly like a trap” (Luke 21:34). Our hearts are easily distracted by dissipation, by wasting our energy in meaningless activities, and by drunkenness, which numbs our minds. Our hearts are also easily dismayed by the daily news. The troubles that surround us are a blunt reminder: “Heaven and earth will pass away!” But let the Lord stir up your heart. Jesus also tells us, “but My words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to live on the foundation You built—on the truth of Your saving work. Your kingdom will not end. Your promises will never fail.
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, is the point of Malachi. Malachi means “my messenger.” That is, “the Lord’s Messenger.” Malachi is the last book of Old Testament, because he’s the last prophet of the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit “spoke by the prophets,” serving up over a thousand-year feast of God’s Word from Moses through Malachi. After Malachi, it’s a 400-year fast until John the Baptist’s voice sounds.
Malachi is faithful to the Lord’s promise. This world is broken and dark. But wait! A rescue is coming: “They shall be Mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him” (Malachi 3:17). “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1). Stir up our hearts, O Lord, by teaching that You know our burdens and You defend us.
Stir up our hearts O Lord, by Christ’s coming! As Malachi continues: “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” (Malachi 4:2). The Lord makes a distinction. He threatens the unrepentant evildoers. They will be stubble. But to those who fear Him, He gives great promises. So fear His name, that is, know your sin. Know He has the right to destroy you. Repent, and cling to Him our only hope. And “for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”
The Sun of Righteousness is Jesus Christ—God of God, Light of light. He shines with full, perfect righteousness, goodness. He shines not only righteousness as eternal God but also His complete righteousness as the only good, fully loving man ever to walk this earth. He shines with perfect light, not to blind those who fear Him, but to heal them. The wings of the sun are its rays. The wings of the Sun of Righteousness—Christ Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem, the bearer of our sin on Calvary’s tree—are His mercies coming to you to heal you. On that Last Day those rays will shine such healing on you who trust in Him that every physical pain and weakness will be banished. Your soul and mind will never desire sin or chase after the hollow holiday cheer that this world offers as a pale substitute for real joy. Your desire will be the Lord, and He will fill the desires of your heart.
Christ’s healing rays also shine this very day, though not in a light that the world can see. Like invisible infrared rays, even today your Savior shines His healing work into you. It is hidden under human words, bread, wine, and water. But trust what He says, and see by the eyes of faith. Christ Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, bore all your sin, and has lived a perfect life in your place, died and rose to be untouched by death ever again. He delivers all His forgiveness and righteousness to you precisely in this gloomy world. This light, as Luther writes,
It is the Sun of righteousness, who justifies, who sends out the sort of rays that make men righteous and free from their sins, who drives out every harmful attitude of fleshly lust. Those rays are the Word of the Gospel, which penetrates hearts and is seen as that Sun only by the eyes of the heart, that is, by faith. It is closer to the righteous than is that visible, physical sun. You see, it shines by the Holy Spirit. It shines day and night. Clouds do not hinder it. It is always rising. (Luther’s Works, vol. 18 [St. Louis: Concordia, 1975], 417–18)
Stir up our hearts O Lord, by the joy Christ gives us! “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2). “Calves from the stall,” means there’s plenty to eat. Sheep in the Middle East had to scrounge for some scrubby grass, but stall-fed calves had it easy. They had room service. You too! Our Lord brings the feast to you in the Word of Christ, Baptism, and the forgiving body and blood of Christ.
“You shall go out leaping” is that Christians get to “go out” as calves do. According to a former farmer, when spring comes, the calves set free from the barn jump and kick in the light and spring air. So it will be on that Last Day for you who trust the Lord. You will jump for joy, basking in the healing rays of Christ. Today, too, forgiven, freed, basking in the forgiving, healing rays of Christ, don’t head for the corners—sadness confines us. The Lord lifts up our heads. He stirs us up to live confidently in Christ’s forgiving joy.
When little ones are afraid of the dark, dear parents hear their child’s fear, pray with them, and perhaps leave a light on to dispel the darkness. So the Lord did and still does for His children. He knows our fears. He knows the darkness that surrounds us and is in us. He dearly loves us. Christ and the Spirit intercede for us. Our loving Lord stirs up our hearts by the healing rays of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. He rises with healing in His wings of mercy. He is coming to finally set us free forever! Amen.