Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Handel’s Messiah

It was inevitable that the 40 Days of Blogging Challenge would assign “Handel’s Messiah” during the Christmas Fast. It is one of the most popular chorus works performed each year during the Christmas season. YET it is actually about the Passion of Christ. I have linked a few examples of the most famous “part” of Messiah, the “Hallelujah Chorus” which I suspect you will hear MANY times in the next few weeks.

That got me thinking about how we celebrate the Feasts of Christ throughout the year. The hymns for the Feast of Christmas include much of the same images as Handel’s Messiah, but they don’t directly reference his Passion. It is only through the Holy Tradition of the Nativity that the Church directs our attention to the Passion.

In the Holy Icon of the Nativity, Christ is wrapped in swaddling clothes as if burial clothes. The gifts from the Magi include gifts for burial. A cave welcomes the newborn child foreshadowing the cave of burial. Indeed the Church teaches that Christ was born IN ORDER to die, so that we may have eternal life. All the Feasts of the Christ, celebrated throughout the year help us maintain this focus.

The Church’s emphasis on both the birth and death of Christ is a characteristic of joyful-sorrow, an expression that captures the duality of Christ. It is both joyous that God has become one of us that we may have life, while at the same time sorrowful that He must suffer.

It is that joyful-sorrow that brings us through the fast in anticipation of the Feast of the Nativity. It is that joyful-sorrow that has been lost in our contemporary society which seems to prefer a life of just joy. It is joyful-sorrow that has been captures in the hymnology of the Orthodox Church, where the hymns of Christmas are offered with reverence filled with joy.

As a musician growing up (I received my BA in Music from the University of Colorado College of Music) I performed the “Hallelujah Chorus” every year during the Christmas season, so it DOES bring a warmth to my heart. As I get older, especially having more exposure to byzantine music, I have come to a deeper appreciation for the reverence that is Orthodox Ecclesiastical Music. That being said, I also included a recording of the Katavasias of Christmas as offered in the Holy Cross Chapel at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. That way, this post can have both the joy that is the “Hallelujah Chorus” and the reverence of the Katavasias of Christmas, a sort of joyful-sorrow.

This post is written for the 40 Days of Blogging Challenge sponsored by the Preachers Institute. You may find other blogs participating in this challenge. I hope you enjoy this year’s Advent journey.

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