For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given (Isaiah 9:6a, King James Version).
I've been thinking about Handel's Messiah ever since I watched the YouTube video of a flash mob gathering in a mall food court on Nov. 13. While enjoying their lunch, unsuspecting shoppers received a delightful surprise as 100 singers broke into the "Hallelujah Chorus" from the Messiah.
In this most unlikely place—a shopping venue—there was a heavenly chorus in which people burst forth in song.
Although Handel's work was conceived for secular theater and first performed during Lent, it has become common to perform the Messiah during Advent. Christmas concerts often feature only its first section plus the "Hallelujah Chorus," although some ensembles feature the entire work as a Christmas concert.
When I was in the Nordic Choir at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, I remember all the preparation for a festive yuletide. Under the direction of Weston Noble, all the choirs would assemble (as well as alumni and guests) to sing the entire "Messiah," complete with the orchestra and soloists. Often a 1,000-member chorus sang the complex strains to an audience that had gathered in the field house. In a certain sense, it was an old-fashioned "flash mob" that converged in tiny Decorah to sing every chilly December.
Under Noble, Luther College has established one of the longest running Messiah traditions in the country, second only to Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan. A 2005 Minnesota Public Radio interview with Nobel (who was retiring after 57 years) reported that for many years he included any Luther student, musically gifted or not, who wanted to sing in Handel's oratorio. At its height, his mass choir numbered as many as 1,000 students. Noble called the Messiah tradition a highlight of his teaching career because it allowed him to expose even more students to the power of sacred choral music that glorifies God.
One year the captain of the football team was moved to join in. While
giving Noble a bear hug after the performance the player asked him, “Mr.
Noble, what happened to me in the 'Hallelujia Chorus'? What happened to
me? I’ve never felt like this in my whole life. Not even when I make a
touchdown.” Noble told MPR that he couldn’t, at that moment, explain
what had happened, but he’s never forgotten the encounter “Obviously it
just went right into his spirit realm. Changed his life? You bet it did,” he said.
As you prepare for the Christ child to be born anew in your life, be open to the surprises of grace all around you. And sing. Sing the songs and carols of Advent and Christmas with exuberant abandon, like the joyous choristers in the shopping mall. Find a video or an MP3 online or borrow a CD of Handel's Messiah and sing along. Lift your spirit and soar with the refrain of "For unto us a child is born" and the "Hallelujah Chorus" and you shall be moved by God's amazing grace.
Advent hope and Christmas joy!
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers