Messiah: Christmas Podcast on Isaiah and Luke
#Messiah is the Podcast for December 25, 2016. George Frederick Handel’s life was a mess. Then he was visited by Charles Jennens. What happened next changed the musical world forever, just like the Baby in the Manger. Listen to this podcast to find out.: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Handel #HandelsMessiah #CharlesJennens #Messiah #Isaiah9 #Luke2 #Hope #Renewal #Forgiveness #Babies #Incarnation
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For My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 12/25/2016 The Feast of the Nativity, Christmas.
Please pause this audio and read Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20.
In 1740, a 55 year old George Frederick Handel, living in England, was faced with a crisis. A horrible money manager, the opera composer was faced with a world in which opera was dying out. Handel had never relied upon musical patronage, say, like Johannes Sebastian Bach. He wanted the musical freedom to be creative. Handel was the “indy” rock band of his day. His career was decimated by sabotage by others who wished him to fail. He had suffered a stroke on his writing hand side.
Life expectancy at that time was 40 years of age for a male in England, so Handel would have been considered elderly for his time, well past his prime. Facing financial hardship, old age, changing musical tastes and a lack of ideas, Handel was living in his home on Brooks Street, London.
Into this bleak situation came Charles Jennens. Jennens was an ardent Christian who had written a libretto for which he hoped that Handel would write a score. The libretto was an apology for Christianity. The diests of Jennens and Handel’s day denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. Jennens had divided the libretto into three sections. The first section contained passages of the Old Testament that prophesied a Messiah who would come as a baby born in a manger. The second part were the passages of the fulfillment of the Messiah in the New Testament, especially the Gospels, and the final section was about the Second Coming. Our first reading today from Isaiah, is the one from which we find the words to “For unto us a child is born…” which appeared in the middle of the First Part of Messiah.
Handel took Jennens’s libretto, holed up in his Brooks Street home, and 24 days later emerged with the most played 260 pages of classical music in world history. He decided not to present this sacred music in churches for the converted, but perform it in theatres with professional singers instead of church choirs. This oratorio would tell a Scriptural story without costumes by singers on the stage in front of an orchestra. The first contralto to sing the first piece of Messiah, “And the glory of the Lord” was an adultress divorcee. She was a friend of Handel picked because her voice quality was known to move hearts, not the minds of the Enlightenment.
An additional note about Messiah is that it was premiered in 1742 in Scotland as a benefit concert to free over 145 people from debtor’s prison for lack of payment. It was such a hit that it not only paid for the debts of those in prison, but also gave Handel a profit to pay his debts as well. It renewed the career of the contralto. The piece was played over and over for the benefit of others to relieve their suffering. At the end of the piece Handel did not sign his name. He wrote the Latin for “Only for the glory of God”.
Messiah saved Handel. Messiah saved many others in prison and who were sick. Messiah saved.
Our passage from Isaiah today recounts Israel at a dark place in its history, like Handel was at a dark place in his. Hope was found in a child being born as a sign that God’s favor was upon them. They were given a promise. God would save them through a leader who was righteous, administered justice, and brought peace. As Jennens pointed out, and we celebrate today, Isaiah has always been understood by the Christian community as a hopeful note to Christians and the world.
Babies are always about hope. I have clients and have had parishioners that even in the darkest of circumstances, have celebrated the birth of a child because it brought hope. Newborns forecast potential of life that could be. They are a sign of renewal; “Maybe this child will have a better life than my life,” a parent thinks.
The child born to Mary and Joseph on this night is the One through whom many lives were changed over the two millennia since his birth. He is the one who will be born with our birth, live our life, be betrayed like we are betrayed, be beaten down by life like we are beaten down by life, be crucified out of jealousy like we will be crucified out of jealousy. This is the child who will embody God on earth so that the Lord himself will live our life and offer himself as a substitute sacrifice for our sins. Because God is eternal, the sacrifice for our sins will be eternal. Because God is outside of all, in all, through all, and beyond all, the sacrifice offered to pay for our sins will be all pervasive. There is never a time or a place or a sin for which the forgiveness wrought of this baby, born on this night, will not be offered.
It is a forgiveness that is offered to outcasts like smelly white trash shepherds in the field. It is a forgiveness offered to royalty, often elitist and entitled, who nonetheless bow before him with their own gifts. It is a forgiveness that is summed up in the new life and expectant promise of a baby as the symbol of renewal offered for all, for all times.
No matter how many years I celebrate Christmas or preach about the babe born in the manger, it never gets old. Christmas is always about starting over, renewing life, giving peace, like a sleeping babe in a manger tucked away from the rat race of the world. It is about a child whose life is filled with purpose to save the world. He invites us to renew our lives in him and be filled with his purpose to love God and our neighbor.
He invites us to be renewed and to renew our families, our churches, our communities, our world so that people can know love, kindness, protection, sincerity, and peace. He invites us to take the road less traveled; the road with principle, sacrifice, hardness, and betrayal. He invites us to start with the promise and then do the hard work to make it come to pass. Like all babies do, he asks us to make him our first priority in our lives, fashion our lives around his schedule, his needs. Like all babies do, he asks us to enjoy him, laugh with him, rejoice with him at all things new. Like all babies who are baptized, we are given the first deposit of faith awaiting us to make Jesus Christ the priority of our lives.
Like Handel and Jennens’s libretto, we encounter the Babe born in a manger as the source of renewal for our lives. We are invited to see a God who cherishes us so much that he wanted to be born with our birth, walk our walk, talk our talk, live our life and die our death. We are invited to see a God who deems us so valuable he would come in human form to suffer our suffering. We are invited to see a God who deems us so important that he would die for us. We are invited to a life that forgives our sins and renews us like a baby who has not yet had a chance to offend anyone. He is our life, our purpose, our forgiveness and our hope.
Handel found renewal of life in the Messiah. We can, too. Merry Christmas. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2016.
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian