Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Divinely Inspired Handel’s Messiah


My thoughts are in italics this week…

During the first three weeks of Advent in this year (B) the Old Testament readings are from the book of Isaiah.  Every time I hear readings from Isaiah I am immediately transformed…

Advent 1 Year B Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Advent 2 Year B Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Advent 3 Year B Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

I am deep in my favorite piece of music, Messiah by George Frideric Handel.  It doesn’t even matter if the text I’m hearing was selected for Messiah - I am still transformed.

Messiah Lyrics taken from Isaiah:

Tenor Recitative—Isaiah 40:1-3 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Tenor Air—Isaiah 40:4 Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

Chorus—Isaiah 40:5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Alto Recitative—Isaiah 7:14; Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel

Alto Air and Chorus—Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 60:1O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

Bass Air—Isaiah 9:2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Chorus—Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

Alto Recitative—Isaiah 35:5-6 Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.

Soprano Air—Isaiah 40:11; He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Alto Air—Isaiah 53:3-6 He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off His hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting.

Chorus — Isaiah 53:4,5 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.

Chorus — Isaiah 53:5 And with His stripes we are healed.

Chorus — Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

One might call this transformation heighten consciousness, kundalini rising, divine intervention, or the best meditation in the world. These verses are all old testament prophecy of the coming of Jesus.

I am equally blown away by the story of the creation of this beautiful music as well.  I believe Handel himself was divinely inspired having completed the composition in about 24 days. Here is the story…

“Charles Jennens handed him [G.F. Handel] the words, or libretto, of "Messiah." Jennens, a literary scholar, carefully selected Old and New Testament scriptures documenting prophecies about the Messiah, Jesus' birth, death on the cross and resurrection.

"The Christian message is in part also a response to the kind of growing interest in what is known as deism…"

Since the deists did not believe in the divinity of Christ, Jennens sought to counter that thinking.

"For Jennens, I think Messiah was a very personal passion, a very personal mission, and Jennens was a deeply religious man, a very committed Christian…”

"We find Jennens writing to another friend of his saying, 'I've done this scripture collection for Handel, and I hope that he will expend his best efforts on it so that it becomes his best oratorio because it's certainly on the best subject. The subject is Messiah,'" Charles Jennens scholar Ruth Smith said.

Handel is believed to have composed "Messiah" in only 24 days. Many believe it was divinely inspired.

One music scholar described the number of errors in the 259-page score as incredibly low for a composition of its length.

It's said that Handel never left his house during those three weeks, and a friend who visited discovered him sobbing with intense emotion.

After he wrote the "Hallelujah" chorus, Handel was quoted as saying, "I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself."

For Jennens and Handel, "Messiah" would be an evangelistic tool to share the gospel with the masses.

They even made the controversial decision to perform "Messiah" in theatres instead of churches to reach a wider audience -- including the performers themselves.

Handel used secular singer-actresses to perform the solos, such as Susannah Maria Cibber, a woman with an adulterous past, but who was described as being able to penetrate the heart with her voice, when other, more skilled vocalists could only reach the ear…

Performances in Handel's day were often benefit concerts, to help release people from debtor's prison and provide for orphans in London's well-known Foundling Hospital.

One scholar wrote, "Messiah has fed the hungry, clothed the naked, fostered the orphan... more than any other single musical production in this or any country."

However, George Frideric Handel did not want the credit.

At the end of "Messiah," Handel wrote the letters "SDG" for Soli Deo Gloria, which means, "To God Alone the Glory." “*

My story with this piece dates back to high school.  In ninth grade I heard it performed for the first time by the Handel Choir of Baltimore, a semi-professional choral group. I fell in love instantly.  Little did I know two years later, as a Junior in high school, I would perform the Easter section for the spring concert with my high school choir.  Our director decided to sing the solos as sections rather than as solos.  Thus, each of us left high school able to sing at least one solo from Messiah.  This gift has come in handy on many occasions where I needed a solo to audition.  

As a young adult many of my friends were aware of my love of this music.  When the Handel Choir of Baltimore announced open auditions for altos they encouraged, no insisted, I audition.  Much to my surprise I was selected. That Christmas I joyfully sang the whole book (not just the Christmas section) three times within one week. I believe God’s divinity had to be in all of our hearts (and throats) to make it through that week. Many years later at Berry College I used my solo piece from Messiah to audition for Concert Choir and much to my surprise was selected not only for Concert Choir but also for the select Berry Singers group, mainly reserved for music major (which I was not).  This piece has served me well over the years. Its simply is not Christmas unless I hear it completely at least once.  Although sad I will most likely not hear (or participate in) a live performance, I happily listen as I write these words. Messiah for me is one way that the Holy Spirit presents in my life. My study of this piece is part of my surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana) and devotion to Christ.

Handel’s history with this piece of basically quarantining himself during it’s creation - his surrender, and using it to create a better world through education and charity, his Karma Yoga, endears it even more deeply to my heart, especially this year.

I know that with God’s help we will all get through this dark time. To God Alone The Glory!



Picture  of G.F.Handel By Thomas Hudson - Unknown source, Public Domain,


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