One of the disadvantages of living in Cheviot (population 400) is that the inspiring and perennial Handel oratorio Messiah is not performed locally. As a result I find myself singing some of the pieces as I drive. You should have heard me driving down the Domett straight yesterday morning singing the beautiful opening verse: “comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” In the absence of live performances I am also enjoying recordings, and this morning discovered some great youtube performances including this one from King’s College Cambridge.
It is easy to reduce the Christmas event to a cute historical moment: a child born to poor parents in a stable surrounded by animals. It makes for great children’s school and parish plays, and the livestock are a great touch in our “animals-are-people-too” politically-correct climate.
Handel was a man of strong Christian faith, and he knew the danger of treating the Christian faith as a smorgasbord of possible belief, picking and choosing the “user-friendly” moments of the earthly life of Jesus Christ, and ignoring His experience of pain, loss, betrayal, suffering and death. So Handel, writing this two and a half-hour inspired work in just 24 days, confronts us with the full reality of Jesus Christ, from the prophet anticipating his birth, to the nativity, baptism, preaching & miracles, life, suffering & death, and resurrection.
This morning I was moved several times listening to some of my favourite parts of the oratorio. Yes there is suffering and death. But the most moving piece for me is the soprano air:
I know that my Redeemer liveth
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God. (Job 19:25-26)
For now is Christ risen from the dead,
the first fruits of them that sleep. (I Corinthians 15:20)