Every December, I listen to hours of Christmas music in a mix of styles on an mp3 player hooked up to my speakers. I have a huge variety of artists, from Celtic bagpipes to Mannheim Steamroller, James Taylor and Steven Curtis Chapman, Brooklyn Tabernacle and Casting Crowns, Harry Connick Jr. and Point of Grace, Sting and Barbra Streisand, and probably 20 other soloists or groups. I don’t like the Santa, snow, or “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” party music, but I do have medieval to contemporary music from numerous countries, so it doesn’t get stale or repetitive.
But as beautiful and touching as the songs are, the best are the choruses from Handel’s oratorio Messiah. One album is a traditional choir with soloists and string ensemble, and the other is an album from the traveling show in the late 1980s, Young Messiah. The latter has Christian contemporary artists doing the solos and duets, with a choir singing the choruses. (When the show came to my city, I sang in the chorus, and it was fabulous!)
I love the Messiah’s choruses for their majesty and drama, and how their repeated phrases allow us to think of familiar scripture verses in different ways.
One of them is “All We Like Sheep.” The chorus parts, so merry and cheerful and unmindful, chase each other around like spring lambs—let’s do whatever we want because we have no cares, and no one's the boss of us. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.”
Then the tragic consequence of selfish hedonism, and the sudden change of tempo and mood. It’s like a lightning bolt, or a sudden death: “and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
Instead of running off the cliff onto the sharp rocks below, we are saved, pulled back by the crook of the Shepherd. But he saves us by taking our rebellious sins upon himself, being separated from the Father in death, and then rising from the tomb to assure us that he is victorious over death.
Handel wrote the oratorio in three weeks’ time. That doesn’t seem humanly possible. Many people, including me, believe that the music was given to him by the Holy Spirit. And for 30 years, I’ve had a sort of time-space continuum notion that when Jesus returns in clouds of glory, the victorious trumpet sound (predicted by John in 90AD) we’ll hear will be from Handel’s oratorio, “The Trumpet Will Sound.” And then we millions and billions who are changed into glory will sing Hallelujah from Handel’s pen.
It may be a fanciful notion, but one never knows…