Celebrate the Messiah this Christmas

For Janet and me, Christmas starts on the long drive home after Thanksgiving. We hug my Mom goodbye and head west from Oklahoma back to Southern California. Every year as we begin that drive, we slip in The Messiah, sit back, and let the Christmas story roll over us again.
Mile after mile we hear what God has done for us in Jesus, and somehow the combination of Scripture and music makes it come alive. I remember one year glancing over at Janet and seeing tears of joy flowing down her cheeks as the rich baritone voice repeated the promise: “We shall be changed.”
How did Handel do it? How did he create such a spiritually powerful piece of music?
Earlier this year I was able to visit Handel’s home in London to see the rooms where he composed and I heard the story of how it happened. I learned that Handel didn’t actually write it—not on his own at least. While I was there I spoke with Dr. Ruth Smith, a Cambridge scholar on Handel. She explained that the lyrics are simply Scripture texts arranged by Handel’s friend, Charles Jennens.

In a time of rising secularism and humanism in England, Jennens was a member of the “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel” and a passionate evangelical believer. He believed that putting the gospel to music would communicate its truth, not just intellectually, but at a deep heart level. His libretto was made up entirely of Old and New Testament texts combined to present the entire Christian message in a single piece. When it was finished he took it to his friend, the great composer, George Handel.
For 18 months the libretto sat on Handel’s shelf gathering dust until one day he took it down, dusted it off, and in three intense weeks, shut up in his flat on Brook Street, composed the oratorio that made the words come alive. He barely ate or slept; he was completely engulfed in the creation of this music—and he wasn’t alone. When he got to the Hallelujah chorus, his assistant found him in tears, saying, “I think I did see heaven open, and the very face of God.”
Messiah_CDHandel’s music captures the deep emotion of the story of our redemption. The opening strains from Isaiah 40 speak God’s compassion straight into the grief of the human soul: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people says the Lord.” It’s a powerful reminder that God has comforted us by coming to us, by being born among us. It lifts us out of the mundane busyness of the season and sings the good news of Christmas into our hearts:
“Oh thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. Lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid, say to the cities of Judah, behold your God”
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the Father, the Prince of Peace.”
The combination of these beautiful words and Handel’s powerful music engulf us in both the sorrow and the joy of our redemption—but the joy always triumphs.
Dr. Smith told me her favorite part of The Messiah was a little known section towards the end. A hushed monotonous solitary voice intones the words from Romans 5, “Since by one man death came into the world.” But then a joyous chorus bursts forth with the good news: “So in Christ shall all be made alive.”
I’m not sure which part touches me most deeply. Every year the Spirit uses the words of The Messiah to speak to my heart in a fresh new way. And every year, every time I hear it, my soul rises up with joy at the Hallelujah chorus. I pray we will all listen to the story this Christmas season and let its deep power touch our hearts and bring forth this glorious response of worship:
“Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.”
“The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.”
“King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.”
As the leader of the 80-year-old Haven Ministries, Charles Morris is always thinking of ways to lead Christians and non-Christians to Christ—hence the familiar slogan, “Telling the great story … it’s all about Jesus.” Charles is a former secular journalist, who has worked for United Press International, and as a press secretary for two former U.S. senators. He began working in the Christian world after seminary, coming to Haven as the fourth speaker in 2000. He and his wife, Janet, have written several books, including Missing Jesus.

1 Comment

  • Victoria Jardine Naranjo says:

    Thank you so very much for being so open to the Lord’s leading. I have had the great fortune to find Haven Today while listening to KWVE 107.9FM radio station. I live in Rialto, CA. I am grateful for the monthly offerings that speak wonderful truth to my soul. I listen and learn and am so grateful for all the offerings for the children as I am a grandmother of 5 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild. They love the Veggie Tales. May God Bless you and Janet and all your staff at Haven as you bless us all year long. Jesus is the reason for the season. Blessings on you all, Love in Christ, Victoria and David Naranjo

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