The Messiah

George Frederick Handel

George Frederick Handel, a German composer who adopted the United Kingdom as his home, was well-known and loved, drawing large crowds everywhere. When his oratorio, Messiah, was premiered on April 13, 1742 in Dublin the audience was asked to leave their hoop skirts and swords at home to prevent overcrowding the music hall. Messiah has inspired millions since it was first presented 274 years ago. It ranks as one of the highest musical masterpieces of all time. Handel lived long enough to see his oratorio become a cherished tradition and popular work. He was especially pleased to see it performed to raise money for benevolent causes.

Amazingly Handel wrote the Messiah music and lyrics in only 24 days. It contains a quarter of a million notes. Miles Hoffman, NPR music commentator, observed that Handel working ten hours a day for the over three weeks would have written 15 notes per minute to create Messiah. Handel said the music came to him in rapid succession. This was at a time when he was struggling with his eyesight, was partially paralyzed on his right side and was facing the threat of a debtor’s prison due to large financial bills. May we always remember that great things can come out of difficult times.

Handel credits the completion of this work to one thing: JOY. He said his heart almost burst as he felt the joy of all he was hearing in his mind and heart. Weaving together unsurpassed music about Christ the Messiah he rose majestically to the masterpiece’s conclusion: “The Hallelujah Chorus.”

Legend says England’s King George II attended a performance of Messiah and when the final chorus was sung stood to his feet. Everyone else followed his example. Whether true or not the world still stands today when “The Hallelujah Chorus” is presented. Nothing is more appropriate. The masterpiece and all it stands for calls for such a response.

Nehemiah 8:10 declares, “…for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Hebrews 12:2 describes the Passion of crucifixion where the Lord “endured a cross and thought nothing of its shame because of the joy he knew would follow his suffering.” Psalm 16:11 shouts, “in your Presence is fullness of joy.” I Peter 1:8 proclaims “whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”

Many years ago a lady defined “Joy” for me with an acrostic. Using each letter to describe how joy could be found, her definition was “J” (Jesus), “O” (Others), “Y” (Yourself). If the letters are placed in any other order they will never spell “JOY.” The inspiration and enthusiasm Handel experienced can be ours today. As we look at Christ’s Birth, Death and Resurrection (the three divisions of Messiah) we can only be joyous, even exuberant? We may not have the gift and talent to create a masterpiece, but we can live with such depth and commitment that others will join us in a never ending “hallelujah chorus.”

Till next time, Don Johnson, KP Chaplain