I grew up listening to Handel’s Messiah every year during Advent and Christmas.
When I was 12, my parents took my siblings and me to a live performance, where we could read printed lyrics as we listened to the music. We soon realized that we’d been singing along to the song with some misinterpreted words. “A wee-like sheep” was in fact “And we like sheep.” And “For the Lord’s donkey reigneth” was actually “For the Lord omnipotent reigneth.” My siblings and I are still amused with our own lyrics.
Two decades later, my December isn’t complete without some Messiah in the background of my Christmas preparation and celebration. I recently went to another live performance, and as I listened, I reflected on what makes this classical piece so timeless.
Contemplate the true meaning of Christmas
The text of Messiah is from the Bible itself. The three-part, three-hour concert tells the salvation story from the Old Testament to the New. Christmas is situated in part one, which is magically brought to life through the choir and soloists who sing about Jesus’ birth, the shepherds, and the angels. Yet there is so much more to the salvation drama! Parts two and three tell the story of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and second coming.
It reminds me that the true meaning of Christmas — Jesus’ birth — cannot be separated from everything else in the Bible. Messiah gives us the whole story with energy and passion that is hard to find elsewhere.
Find your own experiences in the music
Have you experienced rejection, a broken heart, grief, or sorrow? All of these words come right out of Messiah. The music accompanies these emotions with deep, drawn-out notes.
I thought of my friend who recently lost a loved one. The music perfectly conveyed the experience of grief and pain and reminded me that Jesus experienced heartache and loss as well. Messiah is equally, if not more, powerful in conveying that sorrow doesn’t have the final say.
And who doesn’t love the famous Hallelujah chorus? It’s so fitting that people stand for this piece because it draws us to our feet, anyway! The joy, the redemption, and the celebration in Messiah reminds me that God makes all things new — both in Jesus’ life and in my own.
Encounter transcendent beauty
When I experience something transcendent, it draws my focus off myself toward something greater. The music and lyrics of Messiah pull me away from my phone and my to-do list and pull me into the beauty of God’s plan for reaching out to us and saving us.
The music has withstood the test of time for a reason, but it might not be for everyone. The man in front of me was on his phone or dozing off during the performance. But the woman next to me was discreetly wiping away tears, just like me. Go with an open mind and heart and let the music impact you.
Have I convinced you to carve out time for this beautiful masterpiece? You can often find free performances at local churches or schools. My favorite option is to see a professional performance at a cathedral or performing arts center. At the very least, you can pull Messiah up on YouTube and listen while you wrap those Christmas presents.