Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns and appears the second week of each month.
by Tom Beutel
“For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
(Isaiah 9:6, NKJV)
Last night my wife, Wendy, and I attended a local performance of Handel’s Messiah presented by the Choral Union of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. With over one hundred vocalists, professional soloists, and a small orchestra, the performance, as always, was beautiful and inspiring. Attending this performance has become a tradition of ours since our coming to Mount Vernon over 20 years ago.
Isaiah’s prophecy given above, made 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, forms a key part of the Messiah and is probably one of the reasons that this famous work has become a Christmas tradition throughout much of the world.
The release of 142 indebted prisoners was secured by a portion of the proceeds from the first performance of Handel’s Messiah on April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland. Two other charities, the Mercer’s Hospital and the Charitable Infirmary, both established to serve the poor in Dublin, also benefited from the proceeds. How fitting that the most famous musical tribute to the One who came heal the sick and set the prisoners free should, on its inaugural performance, be used to do His work.
To accommodate the crowd of 700 people in the small Musick Hall on Fishamble Street, “gentlemen were requested to remove their swords, and ladies were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messiah_(Handel)) Neither fashion nor arms prevailed at the inaugural performance of this work which honors the Prince of Peace.
From Handel’s notes, we know that Messiah was composed in 24 days. Having received Charles Jennens’ text, comprised solely of scripture passages relating to prophecies about, and the passion, resurrection and glorification of, the Messiah, Handel began composing on August 22 and finished on September 12, 1741. At the end of the 259 page score, Handel wrote SDG, Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory.”
If you have never attended a live performance of Messiah, I would encourage you to do so. While the whole piece is inspiring, one part that always stands out for me is the final “Amen.” As I sit with my eyes closed it seems that wave upon wave of the choral “amen” wash over me. It is a truly exhilarating experience and fitting ending for a great piece.
This Christmas season, amid the hustle and bustle of shopping and decorating, the preparations and get-togethers, the children’s programs and cantatas, find time to listen to Messiah. If possible, attend a live performance. If that is not possible, listen to a good recording. Like an encounter with the Messiah Himself, you will find it transforming!
Here is a list of a few resources related to Messiah:
- The Glorious History of Handel’s Messiah: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-glorious-history-of-handels-messiah-148168540/
- Lyrics and Excerpts of Handel’s Messiah: http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/baroqueperiod/tp/Lyrics-And-Excerpts-Of-Handel-S-Messiah.htm
- The College of King’s College Cambridge (online video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZTZRtRFkvk
Finally, it is my hope and prayer that all you do this Christmas season, and every day, would be done saying “To God alone the glory,” Soli Deo Gloria.