Posted by: liturgicalyear | December 11, 2012

Isaiah meets Handel during Advent

Today’s Old Testament reading should fill your heart with song!

It does mine, and it lifts me to heaven.

Why?  In 1742, Georg Friedrich Händel, one of the best know composers of the baroque period, used this text from Isaiah 40:1-11 in his most famous and best-loved work, Messiah.

I love that music!  I have it on my iPod and my phone and listen to it while I work out or do the dishes.  One time, my girls and I were at a red light and, with the windows cranked down and the music cranked up, I blasted the Hallelujah! Chorus. Observing the reaction of a nearby driver, we all cracked up. (We still do!)

Maybe it’s just me – I’m a singer who has sung this oratorio – but there’s just something about this music. When I sing it, I pray it, and I pray it from somewhere deep, deep down.  It’s unlike any other.  This experience goes beyond merely the rise and fall and challenge of the music. I believe that it’s the combination of the Word of God with the genius inspired by God.

Most people know the Hallelujah! Chorus, which we often hear during the Advent season, but few really understand the entirety of Handel’s Messiah.  Handel tells the magnificent story of Christ in three parts: Part 1 – the birth of Christ and his coming for our sins; Part 2 – Christ’s suffering and death, and God’s plan for ultimate victory, and Part 3 – Christ’s resurrection and ascension.  The Hallelujah! Chorus, in fact, isn’t even sung until the final scene of Part 2 – well after the Advent season readings have passed.

If you have the chance, take the opportunity to listen to Messiah in its entirety during this Advent season.  It is my prayer the God’s Word expressed in this way will unite your soul with the music of heaven.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!  Anne

Click on any of the highlighted text below to hear how Handel expresses Isaiah’s text. For a complete look at the lyrics and their scriptural reference click here.

 Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
Indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in, 
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
The rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
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!”
I answer, “What shall I cry out?”
“All flesh is grass,
and all their glory like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower wilts,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.
So then, the people is the grass.
Though the grass withers and the flower wilts,
the word of our God stands forever.”

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings; 
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.


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