Around this time of year, I make a point to listen to George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. He wrote this monumental piece in 1741, long before the fray of our modern monetized version of Christmas. Did you know it was first performed during the Easter season?
Written in three parts it covers the entirety of the impact of Christ’s coming. “Part I corresponding with Advent, Christmas, and the life of Jesus; Part II with Lent, Easter, the Ascension, and Pentecost; and Part III with the end of the church year—dealing with the end of time.” Wikipedia.
When I grow up, I will study Handel’s Messiah in total.
November and December is referred to as “Peak Season” at UPS, where delivering glad tidings to doorsteps morphs into a drone-like activity. Out of 29 holiday hustles there were only two years where my heart didn’t freeze over eventually. One was when I tweaked my back and was benched during the two busiest weeks of peak. The other is this present season. This year I’m mostly pushing a broom and emptying the trash inside the building. The schlepping of parcels I mostly watch from a distance.
All this to say, a baroque, eighteenth century musical masterpiece on the centrality of Christ was almost overlooked. My heart seems more intact this year. My mind is more mindful if redundancy isn’t a hang up for you. I feel more present amidst the presents. Why did I almost dis The Messiah?
One reason is I didn’t feel the need to jump-start my heart like one of those electric paddle thingies. Maybe, unconsciously, I could Handel this season on my own power. Perhaps “Jingle Bells” was enough to fill the spiritual void. Why ruin a Bing Crosby mood drift with a classical oratorio of God’s rescue plan in Christ? Because that’s why.
I could dip my Jack Frost nipped toes in the Hallelujah Chorus and call it good.
But that aria-like symphonic anthem isn’t a stand-alone song. It’s imbedded. Simply serving the Hallelujah chorus like an entrée isn’t enough to satiate the wandering heart. One isn’t supposed to eat the Turkish Delight before slicing the ham. By that I mean there is context and history in the hallelujah.
If you’ve ever attended a Messiah performance, everyone stands for the Hallelujah chorus. It’s not because of sore bums; a seventh inning stretch of sorts. King George stood up in one of the early performances and the rest of the theatre followed his lead. The honor is due through story of Christ. The music and lyrics build a framework where the rafter lifting strength of the almost shouting of singers forces an ovation of standing proportions.
“Git yer duffs off them thar pews and honor God,” said Festus from Gunsmoke. (He really didn’t say that, but for some reason his demeanor came to mind.)
I’m sorry to be an old fuddy duddy, but when an advertiser highjack’s the most famous tune and tone to sell a pair of socks, well, darn.
Seriously though. Hallelujah! The whole of the piece challenges me to focus my attention in this world of distractions. Handel didn’t know what a sound bite was, well, besides a good piece of roast. He neither knew how pseudo-visual our world would become, despite the onset of blindness near the end of his life. He knew music and how to create a texture like a Van Gogh. Live performances are all they had back then, so the effort was directed at experience. Although The Messiah is his signature piece out of many, its depth has reached into countless souls to stir the cold places of the heart.
But not without the scriptures embedded in and through. Mind and heart. Did you know the lion’s share of verses come from the Old Testament? A few famous New Testament Christmas references are represented, including Luke 2:10-11, which Linus quoted in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Matthew 11:28-29, Matthew 1:23, John 1:29, and Revelation 19:6; 11:15; 19:16. I Corinthians 15 scriptures near the end of the piece, and the final verse being Revelation 5:12-13.
Here’s a link to all the scriptures involved https://www.toledosymphony.com/clientuploads/20192020season/TSOinHD/2020_0412_Messiah_Lyrics.pdf.
All this to say, take time to say woah to the reindeer, and if you need to ease into The Messiah, start with the hallelujah chorus. Don’t forget to listen to the other words in the chorus too. I know it’s a bit late, but maybe next year plan on going to a live performance. In the meantime, Mr. Grinch… Wait. What? For now, soak in the scriptural tunes of redirection and reflection. There’s still time. Immanuel is with us, we need only to turn our minds and hearts his way.
Let’s get a Handel on this season, eh?