Tonight I had the privilege of going to a live performance of the entire Messiah (by Handel). Three of my children were in the choir (there were about 80 voices). There was a live small orchestra, with an electronic harpsichord. a trumpet and tympani drums. I was only 4 rows back so the sound was very good. They were all talented musicians and the performance was incredible. I'm sure there are better/more professional groups doing this around the world this time of year, but I think that the little town of Lynden outdoes itself with this performance every year, and this year was the best I've attended. This is only my third time I've attended, but it is also the third time in a row. It is the first time I have heard the Messiah in it's entirety live though. In the past I have sung the Messiah several times, both in a mass choir and in a college choir. Every time I loved it.
But today was different.
I didn't expect anything different. Yes, I looked forward to seeing/hearing my children in the choir. Yes, I looked forward to hearing the beautiful music that is The Messiah. But I got so much more.
Things started out normally enough. The tenor solo of "Comfort Ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.....that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned." The soloist is amazing. One of the most beautiful voices in our area. He goes on with "Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain."
About this time I start looking into the program and I notice something for the first time. There are "Parts." Three Parts. And Scenes. This looks more like a play. Part 1 - Prophecy and Promise of the Redeeming Messiah" Scene One - God's Comforting Promise. I have never thought of it that way. The Messiah....a play. Scene two: The purifying Messiah is Prophesied...Scene Three: God's Glory Comes Through a Virgin....the soloist are singing verses from Isaiah that foretold of the virgin birth...Scene Four: The Christmas Story....Scene 5: Christ, the Shepherd-King's Ministry on Earth
I'm reading ahead....and then WHAM....it hits me. This isn't an entire book of songs about Christmas. Handel did not write this to make Christmas more memorable. This is about Christ, THE MESSIAH. What the Bible tells us about Him. How it foretold His coming, His purpose.
And then in some Twilight Zone movie I get this perspective in my head that blows my mind. It's like I'm standing outside of time and space looking down at creation as more of a timeline...able to see the past, the present and the future....
The Messiah reveals in the beauty of music God's eternal plan. He revealed His promises and gives men prophesies about how the Messiah would come into the world to save mankind from sin. That the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all shall shall see it together.....that the God of Heaven would send His only Son to be born of a human virgin girl....that God's WORD would become flesh! That the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light! That "unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given....
Now I'm really into this performance. 100% committed. We are at Scene Four: (I've been mulling all this over during "Scene 3"). This part is the "Pastoral Symphony." You know, that part you skip because it's an instrumental piece...or you ignore while you find a fresh piece of gum...or start looking around to see if you see anyone you know in the audience....Only today, I hear it. I hear the meadow. I hear the crickets. I hear the rustling of dirty stinking sheep. I am in a pasture...Pastoral Symphony....it's so calming, relaxing and lovely to listen to. And then I see them...the shepherds! "There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night."
"And lo! the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid"
I'm getting it. The music, the solo...it's painting a picture in my head. Almost like I'm watching a movie. Out of the blue, the quiet of the night in an wilderness outside of Bethlehem, the shepherds are doing what they do every night...and the WHAM there's an angel and the night is lit up by the glory of the LORD! The soloist continues with the unbelievable message that The Messiah has been born This Day....and Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: (do you hear the soloist...I still can!)
"Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men"
The power of the choral voices conjure images of HOSTS of angels shouting Glory to God. I can see it.
But that's it about "The Christmas Story." I'm reading ahead again during the next solo. This is when it really gets into my brain. The Messiah isn't a Christmas Cantata. It is So Much More.
Scene Five is Christ's ministry on the Earth. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap as a deer, the dumb shall sing. Christ feed His flock like a shepherd.
This solo really resonates with me. "He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young." He is a loving, gently savior. We can find rest from our labor, and his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
It makes you really want to have been there. To witness Christ walking on the earth and loving His people...how they must love Him in return. Who wouldn't love a man like that? "Gently Lead"...isn't that we all look for in a leader?
But it's intermission. And while I really need to stand a stretch and I'm sure all the performers need a break, I don't want a break. I'm afraid I'm going to lose this epiphany I am experiencing. It's too incredible to talk about, so I just do small talk. I can't wait for it to start again...I really want this experience to continue!
Finally...the lights flicker signalling time to get in place.
Part 2 - The Suffering Lamb Who Redeems
Scene 1: The Abandoned Messiah Suffers Scorn.
Wait a minute....I wanted more of this gentle shepherd thing.....
Then I remember that I am out of time and space and this is something long ago and that I am only witnessing it from some crazy, far out place....and my eyes were focused on this tiny, three year spot in history when God walked the earth and loved on His people...but it came to an end. An abrupt end.
Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.....
Yes, we are still talking about a lamb, but no longer is this a lamb with a loving shepherd...we're talking about a little lamb who is perfect, that is being SACRIFICED in our place to pay for our sins.
"He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Surely, Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him...and with His stripes we are healed."
Those people who The Messiah came to love on, in God's amazing sovereign plan to make a way for men to be reconciled to Himself, turned on their shepherd.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to His own way...
This is were it got really interesting. The music for these words is bouncy, reckless, fast paced....all we like sheep...all we like sheep...have gone astraaaaaayyyyy. Voices running over each other. Near chaos in the intertwining of the different parts. Intense...unrelenting...everyone to his own way....everyone to his own way...almost like all the parts are doing their own thing, going their own way....chaos. And then suddenly the entire choir is saying together "HIS OWN WAY" and the music stops for a moment...time suspended....not one moves, not a muscle...no one breathes...and suddenly the music starts again, still intense, but so different, like a dirge
"and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all....."
And then I see Him. My shepherd...with stripes on His back, with sorrow etched on His face, surrounded by hostile people....but it's my sins that had been laid on Him....my sins that caused Him to be stuck....
"All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn; they shoot out their lips and shake their heads saying.....He trusted in God that He would deliver him; let Him deliver him if He delight in Him." And I see them all in the voices in the choir. Chaos again. So many voices running over each other all jeering at the wounded Messiah. So terrible, so sad....I'm breaking inside.
And then the soloist comes again and sings something I've never heart before..."Thy rebuke hath broken His heart. He is full of heaviness. He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man, neither found He any to comfort Him." Oh the tragedy. The loving shepherd abandoned, abused, rejected, scorned...having loved and comforted so many in His short ministry....but no one to comfort Him...
"Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow...
He was cut off out of the land of the living. For the transgression of Thy people was He stricken"
and then.....hope breaks anew!
"But thou didst not leave His soul in hell, nor didst thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption. This is amazing. This is a message of great hope! Yes, The Messiah died, but He did not stay that way!
Part 2: Scene 2
"Lift up your heads, o ye gates and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors and the King of Glory Shall Come In!!!!!!!!!"
This song now has an entirely new meaning to me! The King of Glory! The Glorious resurrected Messiah, coming through the gates of death.
Who is this King of Glory? Who is this King of Glory? So many voices asking who this could be! No, it couldn't be...
The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle! Yes, it is the Messiah! He has won that battle over death and lives again! And He's returned to heaven to continue....
Scene Three: Spreading the Gospel
This was another song that really came to life for me. The voices are singing "The Lord Gave the Word" in unison. All the men. Strong...loud, like a voice from heaven. And then the many voices start running over each other again:
"...and great was the company of the preachers"
I see it - the baby church. The disciples and the new converts. All preaching the good news. That The Messiah has come and that He has conquered death and made a way for us to be made right with God. So many voices, each saying it a little different, at a different time, different volume....and then the voices merge to one voice, and then back to many voices. I see it. So many people sharing the good news...different places, difference voices...yet ONE Message!
And then more about these preachers..."How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things. Their sound is gone out into all the lands, and their words unto the ends of the world."
I picture the early church, scattered by persecution...sharing the good news as they scatter across the world...through time and space....mankind finding God through The Messiah's blood, and then sharing the good news...spreading all over the world..many voices...yet one story. A perfect ending...right?
NO...man does not get it....not everyone...
"Why do the nations so furiously rage together? Why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and His anointed."
But the people who have found the Messiah say "Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us"
Victory In Christ!
"He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron. Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
The victory is victory over sin and death. And when that is realized, that death and sin has been conquered for you, that you are no longer under the bonds and yoke of sin...you HAVE TO PRAISE GOD!
I am so ready to stand up for the Hallelujah Chorus. I get it now. The Hallelujah Chorus is about realizing that Christ has done it all for us...He has won the battle over sin and death and hell and has offered us the free gift of salvation!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and of His Christ! And He shall reign forever and ever. King of King. Lord of Lords.....
I see this song in a whole new light. I've always loved to praise God through this song, but I never grasped the meaning of the words, until tonight. This song is a song of amazing enlightenment. You know, the moment you get it. You realize the truth of what Christ has done for you...that He has done it all for YOU...and praise gushes form from a thankful heart! When there comes a firmness of faith...faith in the one who has redeemed your life...
"I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.....
We are WAY beyond the Christmas story now....this is knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, that even though it doesn't make sense...I will behold HIM FACE TO FACE! MY Savior! My God! My Gentle Shepherd!
For Now is Christ risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep.....
"Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead, For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
Yes...Christ became the solution to the crisis that happened in the garden of Eden.
"Behold, I tell you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet."
Oooohhhh....I'm getting goosebumps now....I know what's coming...I've read to the end of the book....but I've never heard it like this....never seen it like this....
"The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible" And then the trumpet rings out in the music. I hear the trumpet call. I imagine what it might be like on THAT DAY when THE trumpet will sound, heralding The Return Of The King!!! And then I see them - all these precious believers who lived before rising up in new bodies and the living believers being changed in an instant to incorruptible bodies and going to be with their Lord!
"For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality!"
"Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, "Death is swallow'd up in victory"
"O death where is thy sting....O grave where is thy victory"
No grave can hold us back! Praise God!
"But Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ"
And then, my really truly favorite song from the Messiah takes on a whole new level of awesomeness.
"Worthy is the Lamb, Who was slain,
and hath redeemed us to God by His blood"
I see the risen Christ, The Messiah, martyrs standing around Him dressed in white...all the characters from Revelation appear in this room...and millions of people....and everyone realizes fully what The Messiah has done by His life, death and resurrection....
"Worthy is the Lamb to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing...."
I am caught up in this picture of millions upon millions of voices joined together in spontaneous praise of our risen Lord and Savior.
I have a glimpse of the difficulty that John had, in describing in the book of Revelations, trying to share what He saw when He was caught up to the heavens and shown so many wondrous things. There are not words to describe...it will be beyond amazing...beyond description.
Worthy is the Lamb.....Worth is the Lamb...to be praised.
I am humbled that God gave me this today. I will never hear the Messiah the same again...and I don't want to. God used Handel to take thousands of years, hundreds of books and authors, and condensed it down and put to music His amazing plan of salvation in the one, The Messiah.
I am out of words...but still praising Him!