Wednesday, December 16, 2009

George Frederick Handel’s famed oratorio called 'Messiah'


Early each December in our home, our cherished CD’s of George Frederick Handel’s famed oratorio called Messiah are dropped into the CD player and we begin to listen to the words of scripture set to some of the finest music ever composed.

I credit two friends of ours with beginning that tradition for us thirty years ago. For a stretch of nine years, a couple of elderly women in my Toronto church spoiled Christine and me each December. Their Christmas gift to us was to take us to Ed’s downtown restaurant just across from the Roy Thompson Hall where following dinner we would enjoy the magnificent sounds of the Toronto Symphony and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir as they performed Handel’s Messiah.

Handel’s Messiah is a choral oratorio, not an opera, determined by the fact that the choir plays the major role. Handel’s Messiah is by far the most popular of all choral literature and while I know oratorio is not everyone’s choice of music you have all been exposed to some music from the Messiah, even if only a perverted Hallelujah chorus used offensively in Bugs Bunny cartoons or toilet tissue advertisements. The music is exquisite but the best part is the text. It’s Biblical. For the child of God the text is enough to make one shake and tremble in admiration of God.

Handel’s Messiah is a reflective commentary on God’s Promise, His Incarnation, His Passion and His Resurrection. With most sacred oratorios, while the themes may be biblical, they do not use Biblical texts. The Messiah does, skillfully, brilliantly, movingly. Today I will read you the text of the first part and preach on a small section of the scripture I quote. There are three parts. I was guest preacher this past Sunday morning at Aldergrove Baptist Church and I chose to preach from Isaiah 40:1-5 which contains the opening words of Part One. The text of Messiah is taken from the King James version of the Bible.

"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: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins. 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. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 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."

I told the folk there that if they like what they hear they can invite me back around Easter and I can read to them the second part from Handel’s Messiah and preach a message from the text it uses. “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” Then if they are up to it, they can invite me as summer begins and I will read to them the text from the third part which is such an encouraging and triumphant reminder of our hope. “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” For now is Christ is risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep.” How’s that for inviting oneself.

Listen to conductor Trevor Pinnock introduce "Comfort, Comfort ye My People," and then tenor Kurt Streit singing this 3:37 min section.

Photo credit for Roy Thompson Hall: Cliff Spice

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