My wife and I had the privilege of hearing a masterful presentation of Handel’s “Messiah” last week at the Kennedy Center. The soloists were solid, the University of Maryland Concert Choir did a splendid job, the musicians from the National Symphony were excellent, as to be expected, and the enthusiastic standing ovation with two curtain calls at the end gave witness to the great impact of the performance. It made me wonder if Handel ever considered that we would still be listening to his masterpiece 270 years after it was first performed.
The thing that stands out about the “Messiah” is that all the words of all the songs sung by the soloists and the choir are straight from the King James version of the Bible — 100 percent. I already knew this, but it caused me to wonder this time if the performers really thought much about the words and, more importantly, the meaning of the words they were singing.
It also made me wonder if some expert on church-state issues would have a problem with the Univeristy of Maryland Concert Choir singing words from the Bible. Aren’t they supported by tax dollars? Or do they get a special dispensation since it is a historical music tradition? The “Messiah” is not exactly a puff piece. But it is a wonderful tradition of the season.
Christmas has a number of traditions associated with it. Admittedly, some are a blend of themes from more than one source. Many scholars feel that the event we are celebrating, the birth of Christ, did not occur in late December. It may well have occurred in September. Indeed, it might not have been a “cold winter’s night” as the songs suggest. Even the Puritans of early America, about as “Orthodox” as you can get on matters of Christian faith, refused to observe the holiday, considering it too compromised to serve a useful spiritual purpose.
The day we celebrate the event is not as important as what transpired on that day. The angels proclaimed that a Savior was born. His name was Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” The long-promised Messiah was born in a lowly estate to a young Jewish girl who had not even “known” a man, not in an intimate way at least. Her husband-to-be was confused about what was taking place, but being a man of honor, he would lovingly take care of her.
That baby would grow into manhood, teach, perform miracles, and live by example for a small group of 12 disciples, one of whom would betray him. He would die on a Roman cross as the total satisfaction of mankind’s sin and rebellion against God. He was taking the punishment we deserved, a substitute for everyone else. Being God’s own son, very God of very God, He was the only one who could satisfy God’s wrath to pay for the sins of the world. And that those who accept this payment on their behalf by faith can become a child of God. What good news. What an incredible message.
All a bunch of myths, you say? That a virgin could conceive and be with child, though the very thing was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah eight centuries before it happened? If there is a God that created the world, the universe, and all that is in it, is there anything too hard for Him?
Everyone has to have a starting point, some idea about the origin of life. Either you believe that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Or, that matter is either eternal, or that it began from a spontaneous generation of some indefinite means. Any starting point is a matter of faith.
Christ came ultimately to die on a cross, an ignominious death. He died — but three days later, came out of the grave to prove that He had the power over life and death. This is the greatest miracle of all, the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the day we know as Easter.
Still more myths, you say? That it all was probably an inside job by his followers based on deceit or political connections? Not that uneducated fishermen, mostly from up north had any clout in the capital city with a Roman ruler or the Jewish temple priests.
Was it a hoax? Consider this: If it was a hoax, would the disciples of Jesus have been willing to die and give their lives as martyrs, which all of them did, for a cause they knew to be false?
So, with all the distractions, business, commercialization and pointless partying, I say, get to the core and find the real significance at the heart of the season.
Merry Christmas! There is a good reason for it.
George Michael, who lives in Williamsport, is a former principal of Grace Academy. His email address is email@example.com.