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December 13, 2012
Column #1,633
Messiah’s Power: Scripture & Music
By Mike McManus

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God,” sang a tenor somewhere in the National Cathedral. But we could not see him, though we were sitting 10 feet from the left side of the stage.

He was singing from Isaiah Chapter 40, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low…” As he sang a prophesy of John the Baptist: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord,” we finally saw the tenor walking down the aisle toward the stage.

The choir responded, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed…”

Suddenly we heard the bass, looked up and saw him in the high pulpit powerfully singing Haggai’s words that the Lord’s coming will also be a day of judgment, “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, Yet once, a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and I will shake all nations…”

“The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come into his temple…

A few minutes later the alto walked out from behind the choir with prophesy from Malachi: “But who may abide the day of his coming and who shall stand when he appearth?”

Then the alto returned to Isaiah for these familiar words, “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanual,” which she translates, “God is with us.”

After the choir sings of what “good tidings” this is, the bass steps to center stage to sing again from Isaiah: “The people that walked in the darkness have seen a great light.”

The choir responds with Isaiah’s glorious words:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…

And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,

The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

Then, surprisingly, the singing stopped and we heard a Pastoral Symphony from the orchestra.

Only after a half hour of glorious music did we hear something from the New Testament, Luke’s Gospel, sung by a soprano, as she walked down the center aisle:

“There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

This was no ordinary formal singing of Handel’s” Messiah,” but a highly imaginative dramatization of the very powerful words of a prophet who lived 700 years before Jesus was born.

My wife and I attend the performance every year, but this was by far the best. For us, being there was the highest form of worship we could imagine. Every word being sung came from Scripture.

Going to Messiah begins our Advent season. For me personally, it is a way to prepare for the coming of the Lord. We attend with dear friends and return home for a lamb dinner which has been roasting. My wife has an Advent wreath on the table, with two purple candles lit for the season’s second week.

This stands in sharp contrast to the shopping frenzy of the culture at this time of year.

What’s remarkable is that Handel’s friend, Charles Jennens, who wrote the libretto, tells so much of Jesus’ story with Old Testament verses:

“Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” from Isaiah 53:4

From Psalm 22:7 “All they that see him and laugh him to scorn…and shake their heads saying, `He trusted in God that he would deliver him.’”

Peter is quoted in Acts 4, but he turns to Psalm 2 for these powerful words:

“Why do the nations so furiously rage together? And why do the people imagine a vain thing?”

Moments later we heard the most famous choral music ever composed from Revelation 19: “Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth .” We all stood up as it was gloriously sung, a tradition that goes back hundreds of years to England’s King George II who rose to his feet in admiration, inspiring generations ever afterward to do likewise.

However, that chorus only ended Part II. Part III begins with these uplifting words: “I know my Redeemer liveth.” From Corinthians? No, that’s Job, one of the Bible’s gloomier prophets.

There was only one disappointing element of the performance. As in years past, the libretto given to us contained the words being sung, but no Scriptural references. It would enhance the experience of attendees if we could read the Bible citations.

I spent too much time flipping through my Bible’s 153 page Concordance to identify the
Biblical sources of what was sung.

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