Posts Tagged ‘Messiah’



The musical notes appeared on the score as fast as he could draw them.

Melodies and harmonies not only filled his mind, they resonated in his soul. In fact, they consumed him. He ate little and barely slept. For twenty-four days he wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote.

The music maestro? George Frederic Handel (1685-1751).




The composition? Messiah.

Imagine the magnitude of composing such a lengthy piece in such a short time. My personal copy of the vocal score is 252 pages. That would mean Handel produced more than ten pages per day—not just a line of melody, but often four-part harmonies for twenty choral numbers AND orchestration for the entire piece. No doubt most of us would struggle to copy that much music, much less create it.

One of Handel’s biographer’s, Sir Newman Flower wrote, “Considering the immensity of the work and the short time involved, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the history of music composition.”

The idea for the oratorio actually originated with Handel’s friend, Charles Jennens. He was a librettist, a writer of operatic text. He and Handel had collaborated on three previous works.

Jennens wrote to Handel in 1741 that he wanted to create an anthology of scripture on the life of the Messiah. His idea was to tell the story of Christ, strictly through passages of scripture set to music. Jennen’s text included seventy-two verses.

Handel immediately became enthused about the idea. Perhaps he saw the potential for such a piece during an era when illiteracy was widespread and Bibles much too expensive for most people to own. This composition would teach the scriptures through music.

So he created the concept of oratorio: a musical composition for voices and instruments, narrating a sacred story without dramatic action or costumes.

Handel told Jennens it would probably take a year to compose all the music for so much text. But he finished in less than four weeks, never leaving the house during that time.

I can only imagine Handel’s euphoria as he sensed God’s inspiration of the glorious melodies and ingenious harmonies.

Upon completing the “Hallelujah” chorus, he turned to his servant with tears in his eyes. “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself,” he cried.

Sometime during those twenty-four days, a friend visited Handel and found him sobbing with intense emotion. Handel could not put into words the depth of his spiritual experience as he composed. Later he borrowed words from Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2), in an effort to recount the indescribable:



(“Whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it I know not.”)

According to music scholar, Richard Luckett, the number of errors in Handel’s draft is remarkably small for a document of its length. Might that be another indication of divine inspiration?

Surely Handel realized that the music had not come from his creative abilities alone. At the end of his manuscript is the inscription: SDG—Soli Deo Gloria, which means “to God alone the glory.”

Because we often associate Messiah with Christmas, we may think the first performance occurred during Advent. But Handel intended the oratorio to be an Easter offering. The debut occurred on April 13, 1742—two hundred seventy-two years ago this Sunday. Handel conducted the performance himself.

A reviewer of that first concert wrote, “The sublime, the grand, and the tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestic and moving words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished heart and ear.”

That assessment has remained accurate through the decades, even till now.

For many years I sang in choirs that performed Messiah without knowing the story behind the oratorio.  Now, more than ever, I add my voice to Handel’s and millions across the years who proclaim, “Soli Deo Gloria–to God alone the glory,” for this magnificent piece of music.

I hope you feel the same.


(Sources:  www.beliefnet.com; http://www.thinkinaction.org; http://www.christians.com; http://www.christianity.com; http://www.patheos.com.)


(Photo & art credits:  www.prints.bl.uk; http://www.baroquemusic.org; http://www.izquotes.com.)








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I love decorating our Christmas tree, even though it takes at least two days.

Two days?” you ask.  “Why so long?”

There are several very logical reasons – if you are me.

One:  It takes time to arrange the branches.  We have an artificial tree, you see.  (Cut evergreens don’t last long in Florida because of the heat, and Steve and I like to decorate right after Thanksgiving.)  That means, before decorating can begin, the tree has to be assembled and the branches spread out.

Two:  It takes time to string the lights.  Although pre-lit trees are convenient, they often include too few lights.  The rule of thumb is 100 lights per foot.  We put 1,000 lights on our eight-footer.  Some are tucked in, some arranged on the tips of branches.  This creates a tree that truly glows.

Three:  It takes time to hang the decorations — the ultimate 3-D jigsaw puzzle of Santas, angels, and miniature manger scenes, animals, toys, and traditional ball ornaments.  Dozens and dozens of them.  (And nearly all given to us by family, friends, members of the churches we’ve served, and students from my classes.)

Long ago I worked for a creative designer.  One aspect of her business included decorating Christmas trees for banks and businesses.  She taught me several tricks for creating a stunning display.  I’ve already shared the first rule:  Use lots of lights.

Two:  Consider the size, theme, and material of each ornament.  Try not to hang several Santas, or a group of red decorations, all together.

Three:  Just as lights are tucked in or perched on branch-tips, it’s important to do the same with ornaments.

Four:  Use the tree lights as spotlights for the ornaments, as often as possible.

A beautiful, glowing Christmas tree is in the carefully executed details.

tree 2012

(Photo taken before the last step:  settling the treetop angel in place.)

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Something else that’s found in the details?  Wonder.

Yes, that statement could be applied to decorations.  There is a sense of wonder when studying a breath-taking display.

But more significant?  The glorious wonder to be found in the carefully executed details of the Christmas story, the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Beyond the familiar events of angel visitations, a trip to Bethlehem, Baby Jesus laid in a manger, and a shepherds’ hurried trek to see the newborn Messiah, there is much to appreciate in the details.

For example:

One:  Little did Caesar Augustus know he was being used by God to fulfill an ancient Messianic prophecy, when he decreed the census that sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,…out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).  God is sovereign — even over those who do not know him.

Two:  Observe whom God chose to notify first about this pivotal event in history–the birth of his Son.  Shepherds!  Members of the lowest class in Jewish society!  Perhaps God wanted us to know that wealth, position, and even the respect of others is of little consequence in his eyes.  What does matter?  Faith.  “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

The shepherds did believe – in the old Messianic prophecies and in the angel’s message:  “Today!  Right now!  In the little town of David, your Savior, the Messiah, has been born” (Luke 2:10-11)!  Those sheep herders scurried off to Bethlehem as fast as they could go.  And their faith was highly rewarded.  They were first to see the long-awaited King of kings, the Messiah.  Their lowly position in society didn’t matter.

Three:  Most wondrous of all?  The Son of God, who was with God and was God from the very beginning, became human (John 1:1-2).  The One who created all things (Colossians 1:15-16), chose to become a helpless baby, and embrace every aspect of the human experience through thirty-some years of earth-dwelling.

I like the way Eugene Peterson says it:  “God became one of us and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message)!

And how do we respond to such wondrous details?  We follow the example of those shepherds.  We praise and glorify our God for all the things we have heard and seen, which prove what we’ve been told (Luke 2:20).

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I DO praise you, Heavenly Father, that early in life I heard about your Son and your gift of eternal life.  I invited you into my life, and have experienced your love, joy, and peace, just as you promised.  In fact, I have seen many of your promises fulfilled in my life and in the lives of others.  You have proven to me over and over that what we’ve been told in scripture is indeed 100% truth.  With Mary, I exult:  “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47a)!

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