You’re sitting in your seat in a lovely, modern auditorium. The house lights dim, the stage lights go up… the conductor steps onto the podium and lifts his baton… a small orchestra plays a lovely and rousing overture, then after a pause, the strings pick up a gentle introduction,the tenor steps forward and tenderly sings
“Comfort ye — comfort ye, my people.”
It’s almost startling, even after I’ve heard it a dozen or so times. We expect a story about the Messiah to begin with the Incarnation, the Nativity — but instead we’re shown why we need a Redeemer: we are out of step with God, our lives are marked by sin and confusion; we need help, we need… comfort.
But this prophetic beginning also warns us of a coming Judgment. “The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed…” “for He is like a refiner’s fire” “and He shall purify…”
And how shall this work be accomplished? “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…”
Then, after more vocal prophecy about the Coming One, how He will bring light to the Gentiles and Light to the ends of the earth…
there is an interlude, a “pastoral symphony,” which seems musically to mark the passing of generations from the utterance of the promises to their fulfillment.
The voices return with the wonderful narrative of Luke’s Gospel: “There were shepherds abiding in the field….”
How can you not be caught up in the story? The Savior is born! “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion, for behold! thy King cometh unto thee!” And during his lifetime, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd,” so we must “Come unto him, take His yoke upon you and learn of Him –” “For His yoke is easy and His burden is light!”
And by now, after all those weeks of intense labor, the melismas dance over the tongue and the burden of them is light… and somehow all the music is pouring out of my heart even more than from my lips, and this oratorio is an offering of praise and thanksgiving to Christ.
Even after the intermission, when we abruptly turn from joy to sorrow — “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world” — and instead of light and joyous singing we are following Him to the Cross and His passion — we lift our voices to dramatize that Passion — we paint pictures with our voices of the One Who, without blame or iniquity of His own, took on our own and bore it for us. We become the angry mob condemning Him with scorn and derision. We mock, we sneer, we flout… we stand back in awe, for “He did not leave His soul in hell, nor suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.”
We watch as the powers of darkness rail and try to deny the Power of God… in vain of course, for “Hallelujah! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! And He shall reign forever and ever!”
And we look ahead to the coming Judgment, and the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, where we all shall sing — can it possibly be more glorious music in Heaven than this? Can my heart bear it that it is? — “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain… to receive power and wisdom and riches and strength, and honor and glory and blessing… forever and ever — Amen!”
And somehow through this music we are given a glimpse into that Final Day when we all shall be prostrate at His pierced feet, honoring Him for Who He is — seeing Him clearly and without mortal hindrance for the first time for all eternity….
Wouldn’t you know it, two days before our performance of Handel’s Messiah, I started developing an upper respiratory infection? By Sunday, I was whispering and lip-syncing, not singing. Still, I think I would have fought my way out of far worse to stand on that stage at Meymandi Hall with these people who have become my dear friends — many of whom are fellow brothers and sisters in Faith — to worship Our Lord in this glorious music.
“Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever. Amen.”