A Special Christmas Eve

(“You and God’ features today a column written by Ellen that first appeared in the TRBC Times, December, 2009)

If there is one Christmas Eve that stands out in my memory, it is the one in 1970. Tony was in seminary, so we had to wait until then to travel. We left Dallas, Texas, in the afternoon with our little Volkswagen headed toward North Carolina. It was a picturesque winter night, with a diamond studded canopy overhead and a soft blanket of snow on the ground. After the children went to sleep, we found a radio station that was playing the Messiah, and for more than three hours we worshipped the Lord as that great oratorio covered the life of our Savior.

The music is by George Handel, written in 1741 and premiered in Dublin, Ireland, in 1742. Charles Jennens compiled the lyrics from the King James Bible, conceiving the work as an oratorio in three parts. Part One was the prophecy and realization of God’s plan to redeem mankind by the coming of the Messiah. Part Two: the accomplishment of redemption by the sacrifice of Jesus, mankind’s rejection of God’s offer, and mankind’s utter defeat when trying to oppose the power of the Almighty.  Part Three: A hymn of Thanksgiving for the final overthrow of Death.*

Much of the libretto comes from the Old Testament. Part one draws heavily from the book of Isaiah, which prophesies the coming of the Messiah. There are a few quotations from the Gospels at the end of the first part and the beginning of the first and second parts. Part one recounts the story (in Luke) of the Angel appearing to the shepherds, and the “His Yoke is Easy” section draws from Matthew. In part two, “Behold the Lamb of God” draws from John. The rest of part two is composed of psalms and prophecies from Isaiah and quotations from Hebrews and Romans. The third part includes one quotation from Job (“I know that my redeemer liveth”); the rest is primarily from First Corinthians. The “Hallelujah” chorus at the end of part two and the final chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain,” are both from Revelation.*

My first recollection of hearing a live performance of this great oratorio was at a small Bible College in Fort Worth, TX. The music director there was also the music director at the church we attended in Dallas, and he invited us to hear the choir he directed at the college. I’ve heard it many times since then, and usually plan to attend the program whenever the Indianapolis Symphony performs it. When you realize all the prophecies that the birth of Christ fulfilled, and all the promises yet to be fulfilled, you feel like shouting “Hallelujah!”

Probably the most bittersweet recollection I have of the “Hallelujah Chorus” was in 1996.  My mother was in the hospital with a heart attack, and I intended to go to North Carolina as soon as our Christmas programs were finished at church. On Friday night, about a week before Christmas, we attended a living Christmas Tree in another city and they ended the program with the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  On the way home, we received word that my Mom had graduated to glory.  I was glad she was out of her suffering, but so sorry I was not with her in those final hours. The song, however, was a sweet assurance that Christ had conquered death, and that we too shall rise again. 

If you can get a copy of the Messiah, I urge you to listen to it during the Christmas season. It is just scripture put to music. You can worship the Lord through the music. It is said that Handel’s assistant walked into the composer’s room after shouting to him for several minutes, to no avail. The assistant found Handel in tears, whereupon he asked the artist what was wrong. Handel held up the score of the movement and said, “I thought I saw the face of God.”

*Information from Wikipedia

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.   And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” (Col.3:16,17)

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