Christmas Music

Imagine being rock bottom and hopeless.  Imagine being fifty-six years old, jobless, in failing health and near bankruptcy. When you were younger, you flunked out of college and left home, hoping to find your own way in the world. And you did.  You made a name for yourself. People recognized your talent. You wanted more freedom, more opportunities to expand your gifts.  So you emigrated to another country.   And you had success in your new homeland, too.  Everything was coming up roses until ill health began stripping you of everything, from the joy of life, to finances, to your ability to work.  Strokes and bouts of rheumatism exhaust you.  Cataracts dim your eyesight.  All the creativity you had in your youth is but a distant memory that torments you.  Now when someone knocks at the door, you’re afraid to answer because it might be another creditor.  All you can do is pray God takes you home before you’re carted off to jail for unpaid debts. 

Then opportunity comes to call.  Two letters arrive.  One letter is from an old friend in Dublin, Ireland who wants to hold a series of benefits to help the prisoners in jail and support a hospital.  Work! And a way to get out of town!  Sounds good.  The second letter is from a rich, but very eccentric friend who often comes up with bizarre ideas. This time he sends lyrics, a combination of Old and New Testament scriptures pertaining to Christ.   Scripture never goes out and comes back empty, and this time the Words from God light a fire inside the despairing heart of a sick and indigent man.

On August 22, George Frideric Handel locks himself in his study and begins work.  Twenty-two days later, he emerges with the greatest work of his lifetime.  On April 8, 1742, Handel begins rehearsals and a week later comes the first performance of “Messiah” before a large (Easter) audience.  He is nearly blind, so he can’t see the audience or their response, but he can hear it.    A few months later, Handel takes his newest work to the London stage.  When King George II hears the “Hallelujah Chorus”, the monarch surges to his feet – and the audience stands with him.  A tradition is born. 

Hundreds of years later, Handel’s “Messiah” is still revered as the most widely known and beloved classical vocal piece in the world – though now, it is performed at Christmas rather than Easter.   The music and lyrics proclaim the life and death of Jesus Christ.   We hear of the Savior’s pain and glory, His resurrection and our redemption.  And our hearts soar at God’s gift of hope beyond all human understanding.