“For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
I cannot read this scripture without breaking into song (in my mind) from the celebrated chorus of “Messiah.”
“Messiah” is an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by George Frideric Handel, with scriptural text by Charles Jennens. It is often billed as “Handel’s Messiah,” but I love the lyrics, yet, I don’t think I have heard anyone call it “Jennens’ Messiah.” It is even reported that Handel referred to the piece in writing to Jennens as “Your Messiah.”
This favorite musical work of mine includes both the softly-sung passages, like “Comfort ye, my people,” and soaring climactic “Hallelujahs.”
The text includes prophecies by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds, the Passion and the “Hallelujah” chorus. The final section completes this masterpiece, with the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven. It is not just for Christmas or for Easter but a complete Christology.
This is a rare place in “secular” music that we get a complete picture of who the Messiah really is. Because of the depth and breadth and height of music and lyrics, we are carried through the peaks and valleys of the Savior’s earthly life and are, at last, joined together in a triumphant “Hallelujah!”
Legend has it that, in 1743, George II (the British monarch, who was actually born and raised in Germany) was invited to attend the debut performance of Handel’s Messiah in London. The king was extremely moved by the performance. When the words “And he shall reign for ever and ever” were sung in the “Hallelujah Chorus,” George leaped to his feet, believing (because of his poor understanding of English) that the line was a personal tribute from Handel, his protégé. The confused audience, observing the king rise to his feet, naturally followed suit and it soon became customary for everyone to stand during this part of the performance. They usually have wherever I have been present.
When these lyrics are sung, I feel a true sense of both Jesus Christ’s humanity and divinity. Will you sing with me?
♫“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 Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” ♫
A prayer for this day:
Incarnate Child, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, we thank you for the inspiration that compels your people to create musical and literary and artistic masterpieces which, in turn, inspire us. Meet us, motivate us, move us this Advent season, that we may share the profound truth of your love in ways that we are uniquely gifted to share. This is the gospel we are called to proclaim through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Rev. Leigh B. Gillis (M. Div., 1992)
First Presbyterian Church