Bible Passage: Malachi 4:2
Pastor: Pastor Schlicht
Sermon Date: December 12. 2017
The nights are longer, the weather is colder, and light is scarce. Welcome to winter. Some say it’s the most wonderful time of the year while others feel a form of December depression. And if you are one of the many who find your emotional wellness slipping away with the daylight, don’t just write it off as a case of the winter blues, because you might be feeling the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of seasonal depression that affects as many as 20 percent of Americans each winter. The lack of sunlight is the main catalyst, leading to moodiness, fatigue, and in some cases, serious depression as the days grow shorter.
Did you know that there is also a kind of spiritual Seasonal Affective Disorder? Long gone is the time in our country of civic righteousness, that time when Christianity still held sway over our country to the extent that most people, at least outwardly, felt compelled to follow the biblical blueprint for morality. You could say something was right and something was wrong and people generally agreed. But that season is gone. The one in which we now live is a bit like the period of the judges, where “every man did what was good in his own eyes (Jgs 21:25)” and God really wasn’t in the picture. In this season of our society, there is a lack of godly righteousness and even as Christians our sensitivities wear down. We often struggle with spiritual sluggishness and fatigue. So what can we do? What is the prescription for this spiritual Seasonal Affective Disorder? Well, today Malachi tells us that the same treatment applies, whether you’re suffering from spiritual or physical SAD: The cure is more sunlight.
Malachi was the last prophet in the Old Testament, writing 450 years before Jesus, and his people were truly living in a season of Spiritual Depression. Just look at the symptoms. In chapter one he reveals that Israelites were bringing lame, blemished, and diseased animals to sacrifice to the LORD and the priests accepted this wicked practice. Then, in chapter two, we find the Israelites marrying foreigners and mingling with their pagan gods. Next in chapter three the Israelites steal from God by not giving him offerings. And finally, they taunt the LORD by calling the arrogant and evildoers “blessed” because they prosper despite their sin. So yeah, I think it’s safe to say that our ancient brothers and sisters were suffering from some serious spiritual Seasonal Affective Disorder. All around them were nations who did not fear God and they had succumbed to temptation, growing sluggish and apathetic in their wait for the promised Messiah. They weren’t basking in the light of the coming Savior, they were losing their fear of God entirely. In other words, they weren’t getting enough “Son-light!”
It’s crazy how intricately our health and mood is tied to our exposure to sunlight, isn’t it? For example, your serotonin levels, the hormone typically associated with boosting your mood, rise when you’re exposed to sunlight. Also, when it’s dark, your melatonin levels increase, which is why you feel tired when the sun goes down, which in winter can be as early as 4:00 p.m., leaving you both tired early and apt to oversleep in the morning. In addition, sunlight helps control your biological clock, or circadian rhythm, which impacts hormones that regulate your appetite and metabolism. Furthermore, a lack of sunlight causes many to experience a Vitamin D deficiency which encourages us to feel moody, depressed, and sluggish. All these terrible symptoms because we don’t get enough sun!
The same is true spiritually: if there is a lack of God’s “Son-light” our spiritual health fails. With the lack of Christ’s light in our life, we will trend toward spiritual apathy and unhealthiness. It’s like Abraham’s nephew Lot who lived near Sodom and Gomorrah. No matter how hard he tried to live a righteous and upright life, the unrighteousness of Sodom affected and infected him and his family. Because ultimately a sinful aversion to the sunlight of Christ isn’t just out there in the world, it’s right here (in the Church) and right here (in my heart). We are lacking “Son-light” from within and without.
And this leads to the same type of sluggishness and depression that always comes along with SAD. We don’t seem as concerned about the needy and those who have less. We become calloused to the violence and language we observe on T.V. We don’t blink at the pornographic material we see standing in the aisle at the grocery store, not to mention the explicit videos on phones and computers. We begin to lose the good gift of a sensitive conscience towards unrighteousness. We lose our ability to feel! We see so much unrighteousness so often that we become spiritually depressed. It seems hardly worth trying anymore! And we get so used to this world and hearing again and again about the shootings, the sexual misconduct, the fires, the poverty, that our eyes gloss over. It is hard to be sensitive to unrighteousness when you’ve been beaten over the head with it constantly. And especially when we see the wicked prosper and the arrogant are called “blessed” by thousands, we begin to wonder if God is even worth fearing! I don’t see any righteousness down here Lord! Where are you? I’m feeling spiritually depressed! I feel my heart growing hard and apathetic! Where are you?
But the Lord does give us an answer. Malachi 4 opens up with a terrifying prophecy straight from the mouth of the LORD. “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 branch will be left to them.” Thankfully, that word of terrible judgment is not the last word God speaks. He has a different prophecy for those who continue to fear the Lord. Malachi 4:2, “But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” My friends, when you look at the incredible unrighteousness in the world today, when you see people suffering when they seem innocent and prospering when they seem wicked, and when you realize the pain your own unrighteousness has caused in your life, when you feel the effects of Spiritual depression, Jesus gives an answer: where he is trusted, he can heal and restore; but where he’s not, he will have the last word in the judgment.
The prescription is clear: we need to get “Son-light!” We need to open our eyes and lives to the Sun of Righteousness as he rises with healing in his wings. Afterall, that’s what happened 450 years after Malachi spoke. The dark night of the prophets’ waiting ended when Mary gave birth to her first-born, a son, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger. The Son of righteousness rose over Judah and began to spread his healing rays to the ends of the earth. You see, that helpless baby was also a righteous Savior, who came to wage war against all unrighteousness. He would live a life of perfection; he would defend the innocent and tear down the arrogant, and in the end, he would take that righteous life and set it aside for a cross of shame. He would redirect the fire of God’s wrath from us and take the heat for all of our sins. And what happened to his righteousness? God credited it to you and me. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)” Jesus truly is the Sun of Righteousness who rose with healing in his wings.
Jesus brings us healing. He healed our relationship with God through his death and resurrection (by his wounds we are healed). And he heals our relationships with people through his grace, humility, patience, and love. He is the cure to our spiritual SAD. The rays of Christ’s healing love can melt a hardened conscience and work in each of us a sensitive heart that loves others and refuses to gloss over unrighteousness, no matter how much it abounds. His light gives us passion and energy to do what is right, even when we aren’t rewarded or recognized. He makes us his ambassadors of righteousness to a world that desperately needs it! Want to heal your spiritual SAD? Then bask in the light of the Sun of Righteousness! Read his Word, practice righteousness, pray constantly, and encourage your brothers and sisters in the faith to do the same. That’s what Advent is all about!
Probably the worst part of Seasonal Affective Disorder is the severe depression that can set in. But did you catch what Malachi wrote at the end of verse two? He said, “The Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” Someday, though some of you may not think you have it in you, we will be as jump for joy as young calves released from the stall on a summer morning. We will leap in excitement because we know that the Sun of Righteousness will one day take away all sin and pain and unrighteousness and sadness. No matter how glum we may feel some days this winter, one day we will be perfectly happy. One day there will be no more night. We will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our light and we will reign forever. Friends, in these last days before Christmas, make sure to get some Son. Seriously, realize that Seasonal Affective Disorder is real and take steps to help yourself combat it this winter. But also get ready, once again, to see the Sun of Righteousness rise with healing in his wings and, if you have it in you, jump for joy on Christmas morning.