It’s said that at the 1743 London premier of the Halleluiah Chorus in Handel’s Messiah, England’s King George II stood up. Everyone there joined him. Generations later we still stand even when no King is around.
Various theories are offered for his actions. It’s clearly beautiful and inspiring music, (…but so are other sections of “The Messiah.”) The Oratorio is long (2 ½ hours!), perhaps the King needed a stretch or was bothered by gout? Finally, did he stand at all? …or is it just a legend?
Such theories fit our skeptical age well. But perhaps another reason is hidden here.
The Christmas staple of the Messiah is spectacular! The "Halleluiah Chorus" alone is often the sentimental "showstopper" in many Christmas concerts.
But aside from its beauty and reference to the Christ-child, it's real intention and message is to link Christmas to Easter, (which is the reason for Christmas after all!).
Easter, with its deeper life changing, transforming message is often forgotten or briefly referenced at Christmas. But it’s deepest meaning and power, the power that may have caused even great King George II to rise in its honor, is unappreciated.
For most of us, Christmas is clearly an overwhelmingly “consumer holiday” that only tangentially references the Christ child and his parent’s journey to Bethlehem.
Given that, Clergy work hard to find spiritual details in the "Magnificat", the smelly stable, the angels, the outcast shepherds, and the enigmatic eastern visitors. (and sometimes, even the murderous Herod.)
But, unfortunately, we spend little time on the “meta-story” of Christmas. So we, and those around us, soon pack away our Christmas decorations and songs until next year. Then we drag everything out again, looking for a fresh spin on it all.
So despite all the hard work, nothing really changes, no deep transformation, no life-changing insights.
Yet the meta-story is there, hidden in plain sight, waiting to be seen and heard anew.
Here’s a little experiment to open our ears and un-blind our eyes.
Look over our Christmas carols and cards, our worship prayers and sermons and ask: “How would I be changed if I replaced "Christ" with its Hebrew cognate: "the Messiah".
Immediately we'd sing "The Messiah Carols" and send each other “The Messiah Cards”. We’d proclaim: "The Messiah is born" and “Merry Messiah-mas”!
In Handel's famous oratorio we’d hear:
"The kingdom of this world
is become the kingdom of our Lord,
and of his Messiah (Christ);
and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
All this means that heaven is now available even now, here on earth, the “kingdom of this world!” The Messiah has come and all creation is now seen differently!
Isn’t this the Gospel / the Good News message of Jesus?
…“The Kingdom of God/Heaven is at hand!” (Mark 1:14-15, Matt 4:17, Luke 4:21, John 1:1-18, Acts 1:6-8)
Clearly, it's not just an adorable baby we're celebrating in dark mid-winter who has a jolly assistant with a bottomless bag of consumer goods!
It's God’s gift of “incarnation”, the long-awaited HOLY Messiah, come to remove the bloody boot of modern-day “Roman Armies” and false Gods, … come to restore the world to God's intended state of paradise, of living with God!
“Messiah-mas” is directly connected to the Resurrection! It invites us to live on this “Porch of God” we call creation in a “God is REALLY present with us” way.
It’s a transformative event transcending ALL our celebrations and pointedly asking: "Are you a deeply transformed Christian (i.e. little Messiah).....or not?
Are you living like a "Citizen of Heaven" (Phil 3:20), as a Saint, a deeply spiritual re-born person in peace and justice? If not, then why are you celebrating Christmas?
Perhaps, King George II was standing, not from boredom or aches and pains, but out of respect that there is a greater King than he.
Standing, as we often do for the reading of the Gospel, in recognition that the ultimate meaning of life is to live in God’s heavenly presence now and forever.
Have you been transformed because the Messiah is in your life?
Why, or Why Not? Let’s talk about it.