Sermon Series: Messiah

In the wake his recent conversion to Christianity, Kanye West, last Sunday, presented his “Nebuchadnezzar” opera and took a beating from critics for what they said was really an oratorio. Almost three centuries ago, George Frederick Handel, in 1741, was struggling because London audiences were losing their taste for his operas and so he made the shift to oratorio in Dublin and composed, in just 3 weeks, and presented “Messiah” to enthusiastic crowds.
An oratorio is an extended musical setting of a sacred text made up of dramatic, narrative, and contemplative elements. And like Kanye, audiences struggled with the presentation of a sacred story in a secular venue. But unlike Kanye, whose “oratorio” will likely soon be forgotten, “Messiah” is yet today probably the most-performed and most-beloved piece of music ever written.
Unlike most oratorios, “Messiah” has no plot or characters as such, only Bible verses telling of the mysterious divine events. Charles Jennens’ careful compilation of the texts (60% from the Old Testament) are perhaps more responsible for the enduring power of “Messiah” than the music itself. And this is why we will focus on some of these key texts. The music and texts form a narrative that portray God’s salvation through Jesus.
“Messiah” was not written for church worship; Handel’s creative life was in public performance. But Handel famously said, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better.” Jennens, as he compiled the texts, was also clearly motivated with a desire to hold up Jesus as the Messiah (Anointed One) for the increasing numbers of skeptics and scoffers in his day. Legend has it that Handel said after finishing the Hallelujah chorus that “I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God himself!”
Part I celebrates the birth of Christ, in prophecy, fulfillment, and thanksgiving. Part II tells of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection and their significance. Part III is an affirmation of faith, based primarily upon events chronicled in the Book of Revelation, building into majestic praise. Over these next five Advent services (including Christmas Eve), we will focus on the texts from the five scenes of Part I and seek to become “better” by seeing the glory of God and his salvation in new ways.