December 10: Singing Handel’s Messiah

This post is part of a series of Christmas Devotionals by Dr. John Neihof, president of Wesley Biblical Seminary. You can find all of the devotionals by clicking here.

Scripture passages: Isaiah 7:14, 40:1, 53:4, I Corinthians 15:52, Psalm 16:10, 69:20, Revelation 19

As a college student, I sang in a Christmas chorus performance of Handel’s Messiah. I remember the soul-stirring solo arias and choral selections of that great oratorio.

I remember Carla’s aria. She intoned the mystery of the virgin birth. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive!” only to be punctuated with laughter at rehearsal. The choir witnessed the incongruity of Carla’s form, seven months pregnant with her third child. Needless to say, someone more suitable had to perform the solo at the public performance!

Ran Boggs was our director. During my 10th grade year in high school, his only son, Chris, died in a tragic fall. Ran was heartbroken. At each rehearsal of “Surely He hath born our griefs and carried our sorrows,” tears coursed down his cheeks. His face, contorted with grief, simultaneously shown with the love and comfort of Christ. The college choir sang all the more passionately when we saw this comforted saint’s response to sorrow.

My friend, Tim, sang the tenor solo, “Comfort ye. Comfort ye my people.” His clear tenor voice rang out with the message of Christmas. Tim went on to graduate from Wesley Biblical Seminary and to become a leader in the church. David’s bass voice resonated the mystery of the resurrection “The trumpet shall sound.” Hours of intense rehearsal were required for me to master some lesser known solos, “Thy Rebuke has broken his heart” and “Thou didst not leave his soul in Hell,” detailing the suffering and death of our Lord. And then there were the favorite choral selections of the Christmas season, always ending with the “Hallelujah Chorus!”

I remember the story of Handel’s recovery from an incapacitating stroke, and only shortly thereafter rapidly composing the great oratorio in the summer of 1741. I always marveled at the story of his assistant finding him upon completing the Hallelujah Chorus, and Handel’s words through a tear-stained face, “I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God.”

The message of Christmas is the miraculous message of Messiah. Embrace the glory of the most astonishing theologies of the Christian church: the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit and Mary’s virgin birth. The greatest minds of the church have tried to unravel these mysteries. I pray that you have a fresh encounter with the Messiah this miracle-filled Christmas season.

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