Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Healing Wings

My brother, Dave Tucker, recently wrote:
            While loving Christmas music, I have two problems with carols.
            First is that we generally sing only the first verse. The older of the carols were written as a total unit, not just to commemorate a holiday, but to teach a largely illiterate audience actual Bible doctrine about the birth of Christ. Singing just the first verse of any hymn cheats us of the full story.
            The second problem is that the carols are so familiar, we tend to sing or hear them on autopilot. We hear the tune, we might mouth the words, but we don’t think about how those words come together and so miss the story they tell.
            Oh, what we miss! (http://gomandate.org/theres-a-problem-with-christmas-carols/)
            Christmas carols provide not only poetry, story, and straightforward theology, but also some wonderfully obscure nuggets of truth. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” contains these mysterious lines.

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n 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.

            Your first reaction might be to wonder why Charles Wesley used “sun” instead of “son.” Way to mix up your homophones. Secondly, you might wonder why he gave Jesus wings. After all, he didn’t rise as an angel. What’s this verse about?
            Wesley must have been referring to Malachi 4:2, “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
            But wings? It helps to love you some Torah. Among the interesting and odd commands Moses received from God is this one in Numbers 15.
            The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.
            These tassels or fringes (zizith) were still worn by observant Jews in Jesus day (and still today). In the first century, “In popular belief, the clothes of holy men, and especially the fringes, were thought to possess miraculous power” (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, I, 238).
            Specifically, people believed that when the Messiah came, the zizith he wore would have healing power. Would now be a good time to mention that these zizith were also called wings?
            The account in Mark 5, with parallels in Matthew 9 and Luke 8, of a woman who had been sick for twelve years demonstrates this belief. She only wanted to touch “the hem” of Jesus’ garment, and when she did, she was healed.
            Was Wesley thinking of all this when he penned his hymn? Probably. He was a pretty smart guy. And I see his original version of the carol has even more verses jam packed with theology. (http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/h/h/a/hhangels.htm)
            That should make my brother very happy.


  1. Roberta, your blog post is excellent and very thought-provoking. I have three hymn history books, which are so informative concerning the roots of many of our beloved hymns. Thanks for such an uplifting post today. Merry Christmas!