December 31 - Messiah - Revelation 5:12-14

Monday, December 31, 2012

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December 31 - Messiah - Revelation 5:12-14

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen.

G. F. Handel died on April 14, 1759 and was buried in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.  Just six days before his death, he accompanied a performance of Messiah on the organ.  On the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death in 1784, three commemoration concerts were organized at Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon and on May 29th of that year, a mass performance of Messiah at the Abbey celebrated the life of its composer.

As a month fades away and a new one begins, as seasons move from life to death and life again, as the year passes and a new one enters, we often get caught up in the cycle of old and new, passing memories and new possibilities.  We see deaths and new births occur.  Change seems to be the standard for our lives.

For some these changes seem like upheavals, chaotic interruptions to an already difficult life. For others, natural transformations occur without much concern and very little attention, but as they look back over their lives, they are clearly aware of the ups and downs that have happened.

One of the great joys of knowing Jesus Christ is the strong line of continuity He provides throughout our lives.  He never changes.  Ever. We might dance everywhere else but along that line with Him, and yet He will remain in place; offering strength and hope, peace and joy.

When chaos erupts, Jesus Christ is still there. When we are overwhelmed, He is still the same. At the beginning He was there and when all is finished, he will be there.  There is never a moment in our lives when Jesus Christ is not there, the same as He was yesterday, is today and will be tomorrow.  We can have confidence in Him.

The scripture passage tells us that for His sacrifice He is worthy to receive praise. Do you understand that because of His eternal ‘sameness,’ that sacrifice could have occurred at any point in the timeline of eternity and His work would have been the same. But, it happened when it did in our timeline and it is this gift which we can receive. Because of His sacrifice, we have the gift of His presence in our lives. For this and for so many other things, we can lift up our hands and cry “Worthy are you, Lord to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”


December 30 - Messiah - Romans 8:31, 34

Sunday, December 30, 2012

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December 30 - Messiah - Romans 8:31, 34

If God be for us, who can be against us? 

Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us.

Handel continued to have a close relationship with the Foundling Hospital and held an annual benefit performance of Messiah in their honor.  Even though he faced every day in the dark, it is said he maintained a keen sense of humor and continued to enjoy life.  His final two masterpieces, “Theodora” and “Jephtha” were composed after he had lost his sight.

We have the potential for so much and so many times we waste it because we don’t believe that we can do the things we are called to do.  Our fears control us and tell us that failure is imminent, that we will be embarrassed, that we will disappoint.

What we forget is the promise and then the query: If God is for us, who can be against us?

If God is for us, who cares if we fail? We've learned something and that’s always good.  If God is for us, why should we be embarrassed? He has seen the very worst of us and still loves us.  If God is for us, disappointment from others means nothing when we are working to do the things God has planned for us. If God is for us, who can be against us.

We have the power of God within us.  The moment we choose to live knowing that is the power that motivates us, we live without limits.  The world’s limits no longer matter, God is for us; our friends and families no longer control us with expectations, God is for us; those who ridicule or mock us no longer restrain us, God is for us.

This is an immense message that needs to be told over and over again. We are not defined by the limitations placed on us by others; we are defined by God who is for us, God who sent His Son to die to remove the taint of sin and the horror of death, God who loves us and wants His children to live.

He wants us to live without fear, filled with the knowledge of His power and love flowing through us.  If you really believed that, what would change for you today?  What would you do differently?  Just today … not tomorrow or five years down the road.  What would you do differently today, knowing that you are loved and have unlimited power and potential flowing through you?

God is for you, nothing can be against you, not even yourself.

December 29 - Messiah - 1 Corinthians 15:51-57

Saturday, December 29, 2012

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December 29 - Messiah - 1 Corinthians 15:51-57

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.

Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

After writing Messiah, Handel continued to write dramatic oratorios in “Samson,” “Belshazzar,” “Solomon.” He wrote dramas based on classic Greek tragedies and a gloriously patriotric concert piece, “Judas Maccabaeus.”  Like any talented composer, he faced criticism for his work.  There were those who thought his Italian operas were ridiculous, then turned around and criticized his musical settings of Scripture as profane.

I remember sitting with Mom before she died. I was weeping because I knew how much I would miss her.  She was ready to be done on earth. Her body had fought too long and too hard and she was finished with this place.  She said something to me about the fact that we would be together again in heaven and since I was feeling quite sorry for myself, I remarked that it was going to take a long time and those would be difficult years because she wasn't around.

We started talking about those years between her death and mine. One thing she said struck me.  “Diane, I know you’re going to live out years that seem like a long time on earth, but for me, it will be like the twinkling of an eye before I see you guys again.  I will shut my eyes soon and in just a moment, we will be together again.”

When I was little and anticipated an exciting day, Mom always told me that if I would just go to sleep rather than fight it off, the time would pass much more quickly and when I woke up, the new day with all of its fun and excitement would be here.  I learned she was right.  We tell our children to go to sleep on Christmas Eve so Santa can come and deliver gifts.  Their last thoughts are filled with excitement and anticipation as they shut their eyes.

We fight so hard to stay here on earth. We only know the limited excitement that is ours while we are alive.  What, though, will happen when we close our eyes for the last time on earth? Paul tells us that death isn’t the last thing we will know.

Imagine the moment – that twinkling of an eye moment – when we open our eyes and see Jesus face to face.  Never again will we face sorrow or fear. Never again will we know death.  We will know victory in Jesus Christ.

December 28 - Messiah - Job 19:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22

Friday, December 28, 2012

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December 28 - Messiah - Job 19:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. (Job 19: 25-26)

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep. Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (I Corinthians 15: 20-22)

From 1737 (Messiah was written in 1741) on, Handel suffered a series of strokes and then later in life, cataracts threatened his sight. He had several operations to restore his vision, but those left him completely blind.  Words written in his oratorio Samson reflect his sense of loss over this: “Total eclipse! No sun, no moon.  All dark amidst the blaze of noon. Oh glorious light, no cheery ray to glad my eyes with welcome day.”

The thing that makes being a Christian such an extraordinary experience is that we have a living Savior. Jesus Christ lives!

His sacrificial death on the cross was done so that we could all be free of sin and could have immediate access to God, but His resurrection assures us we have a Savior who has conquered death.

Paul tells us that Adam (and yes, Eve) brought death into the world by their refusal to obey God’s command.  But, Jesus’ complete willingness to obey God, by coming to earth as a man, living a life among humanity, then facing the abuse of his critics and going to the cross to die for our sins changed all of that. While we still face death here on earth, we too, can find eternal life in heaven.  The promise of this is a great gift!

Today, I hear the song in my head, “I know that My Redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”

I know Jesus Christ lives and that when the time comes, He will reign on earth. All nations and kingdoms will come to acknowledge Him as Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

December 27 - Messiah - Revelation 19:6; 11:15; 19:16

Thursday, December 27, 2012

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December 27 - Messiah - Revelation 19:6; 11:15; 19:16

Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. 

The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. 

King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.

Handel supposedly said “Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not. God knows,” when asked about composing the Hallelujah Chorus.  Whether or not King George II stood when it was first performed in England is more legendary than true, but what a beautiful action to take!

There is nothing much more I can write about these verses than what they say themselves. Today I will provide a link to a Flashmob joining together in singing the Hallelujah Chorus. (I’ve seen it multitudes of times and still weep all the way through.)

Take time to listen to it at some point and let the absolutely glorious sounds of Handel’s most famous piece encourage your own praise.  Lift your hands, your eyes, your voice to heaven and praise the King of Kings and Lord of Lords with all that you have.


December 26 - Messiah - Psalm 2:1-4, 9

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

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December 26 - Messiah - Psalm 2:1-4, 9

Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against His anointed. Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.  He that dwelleth in Heav'n shall laugh them to scorn; The Lord shall have them in derision.

Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.

Even though Handel wrote sacred oratorios, they were generally performed on stage, rather than in a church.  He loved Italian opera and it wasn't until opera destroyed him financially that he set it aside for the English oratorio.  He used male sopranos and contraltos and stuck very closely to Italian opera conventions, creating masterpieces such as Guilio Cesare, Sosarme and Alcina.

Sometimes we let the evil of the world worry us too much. We act as if we have to make sure everything is fixed around us so that it will be alright for God.  We don’t want Him to see what terrible things are going on around us, because He’s much too good and it might be more than He can handle.

In this Psalm, which is a coronation psalm, the Lord reminds the nations of the earth that he is ultimately in charge. While David is the one whom He placed on the throne when the Psalm was written, the one who reigns now is His Son.

It doesn't matter what the nations of the earth do or what the rulers and kings say.  They can discount the Lord all they want and it will not change a thing.  He will still be in heaven and His Son will continue to reign from His right hand.

When the time comes, every thing that has been said by the leaders of earth’s nations or done by them to others in the name of power and pride will be struck down.

In the 1960s, TIME magazine asked if God was dead.  I’m pretty certain that didn't upset God either. Our little bits of time here on earth, though they seem immense and meaningful to us are just blips of time in God’s eyes and our petty wars and questions about His existence are simply part of the timeline and don’t really change how he interacts with the world.

God is in control and that doesn’t change, no matter what we believe or feel.  He doesn't need us to believe in Him in order to reign over His creation.

December 25 - Messiah - Romans 10:18; Psalm 19:4

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

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December 25 - Messiah - Romans 10:18; Psalm 19:4

Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world.

Though most of Handel’s music was written for vocalists, he was also one of the greatest instrumental composers of the late Baroque era.  His series of overtures, orchestral concertos, large-scale concert music for strings and winds (Water Music, Fireworks Music) and organ concertos established him as a master of orchestral composition.

No one can say they've never heard of God. They may not be able to identify Him in the same manner in which we do, but God makes Himself known to the entire world.

Psalm 19:1-4 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people sang out His praises, the Pharisees asked Him to shut them up. Jesus said, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40).

All creation sings out the glory of God.

When Christ was born, a bright star shone in the east, angels came from heaven to announce His birth.  There is never a moment that God doesn't shout to the world His presence, His power and His divine nature.  We can choose to ignore it, or we can participate in the telling of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

He has Come. The Lord Jesus Christ has come to earth.  He is here.  Hallelujah.

December 24 - Messiah - Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15

Monday, December 24, 2012

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December 24 - Messiah - Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.

While Handel was still alive, he was recognized as a great classical composer.  Many say he democratized music, making it popular to a much wider public.  His oratorios, songs and instrumental pieces became part of England’s national culture and in Germany, while it happened after he died; the popularity of his music established him as a highly vaunted German composer.

Paul asks the question at the beginning of Romans 10:15, “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” then quotes the verse from Isaiah 52:7.  Paul’s idea of a preacher is one who is a spokesman for God, not one with his own message and his own agenda.

It’s easy to read this and think about those who are ordained to stand in the pulpit on Sunday mornings (the picture today is of my father when he was very young).  But, if the old adage is true, that our actions speak louder than our words, it seems we are the ones God sends into the world to bring the message of peace and glad tidings of good things.

If these things are what God finds beautiful in us, how can we choose to be judgmental, mean and nasty, condescending or short-tempered with people we encounter on a daily basis?

James says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:9-10).

This should not be.  Those who bring the gospel of peace; those who bring glad tidings of good things; those who tell the Good News of Jesus Christ, Messiah and Lord: they are the ones whom God finds to be beautiful.

Today - be beautiful!

December 23 - Messiah - Psalm 68:18; 11

Sunday, December 23, 2012

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December 23 - Messiah - Psalm 68:18; 11

Thou art gone up on high; Thou hast led captivity captive, and received gifts for men; yea, even from Thine enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them. 

The Lord gave the word; great was the company of the preachers.

Handel went to England in 1712 after his opera Rinaldo was performed to rave reviews.  He wrote Ode for the Queen’s Birthday and another piece, then began receiving an annual allowance of 200 pounds from Queen Anne.  When she died in 1714, he became the director of music to the Duke of Chandos and in 1726 he became a British subject. This allowed him to be appointed a composer of the Chapel Royal. He wrote the Coronation Anthems for George II in 1727 and the Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline in 1737.

My mother always joked that when she was on her way to heaven, she was going to grab everyone she could and halfway there, say, “Do you believe in Him now, or would you like me to drop you?”

Christ, in ascending to take his place as ruler of earth in heaven, gathered his enemies in his train and received gifts from those whom he had conquered.

The news of his reign is spread throughout the world by an immense number of people.  The message is clear.  God has triumphed.  His is the victory over rulers and their kingdoms.  The joyous news of His victory goes out to the people.

This Good News is what we share today.  The Lord has triumphed over his enemies.  Death has been defeated, the battle is won.

With the birth of Jesus we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth, at Easter we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ life within the hearts of all humanity.  Every single day, the Good News that Jesus has saved us from lives of sin is time for celebration.

Share the Good News, live the Good News.  Jesus Christ reigns.  Evil has been conquered.

December 22 - Messiah - Hebrews 1:5-6

Saturday, December 22, 2012

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December 22 - Messiah - Hebrews 1:5-6

Unto which of the angels said He at any time: "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee?" Let all the angels of God worship Him.

.. But Handel’s harmony affects the soul,
To sooth by sweetness, or by force controul;
And with like sounds as tune the rolling spheres,
So tunes the mind, that ev’ry sense has ears.
When jaundice jealousy, and carking care,
Or tyrant pride, or homicide despair,
The soul as on a rack in torture keep,
Those monsters Handel’s music lulls to sleep.
                 - an anonymous poem in The Gentleman's Magazine (May 1740)

This verse, taken from Psalm 2:7, is another of the Messianic prophecies.

There is none whom the Lord God has elevated to royalty as He did His Son.  It is Jesus Christ who will reign at the right hand of the Father.  He is the one who will judge humanity in the last days and He is the one who will fight the final battle with evil.

One of my favorite passages in Revelation comes from Revelation 19:11-21.  The rider on the white horse, whose name is Faithful and True.  “With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one but he himself knows.

“He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.

“Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.

“On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:11-16).

The beast and kings of earth come out to meet the rider and his army for battle, but the beast is captured and there is no battle.  It had been won before they arrived.

This is the one whom God places on the throne.  Faithful and True. The Word of God. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, the sacrifice he, himself had made.

There is no angel, nor any human who is like him.  Let everyone worship him.

December 21 - Messiah - Psalm 24:7-10

Friday, December 21, 2012

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December 21 - Messiah - Psalm 24:7-10

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.

As Handel’s work became popular, performances went over the top.  New parts would be created for extra instruments and sometimes there would be thousands of performers gathered to produce an event.  Within one hundred years of Handel’s death, these ‘improvements’ had completely distorted Messiah and the composer, Berlioz described Handel’s music as “a barrel of roast pork and beer.” Many misconceptions were applied to Handel’s musicianship and Messiah nearly eclipsed every other work he composed except Water Music and Fireworks Music.

Scholars are unsure as to which gates the Psalmist is referring.  It could be that he is calling to the people within the gates of the Temple to fling wide the gates, or he might be addressing the gates themselves.  There is a possibility that if David had written this Psalm, he might be referring to the “ancient doors” of Jerusalem, since the temple had yet to be built.

Jerusalem had long been the city of God.  From the days when Melchizedek ruled there (Genesis 14:18), to the time of David, it had been known as a city of peace, but it became known as the city of God because God chose to dwell there.

Because of this, the people and the city were called upon to receive the arrival of the Great King with joy!

Christmas is a great season to fling open the gates of our hearts in order to receive the King of Glory.

December 20 - Messiah - Psalm 16:10

Thursday, December 20, 2012

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December 20 - Messiah - Psalm 16:10

But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell; nor didst Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.

Handel didn't put up with much from his musicians. Here are a couple of anecdotes:

A singer complained of Handel’s accompaniment.  He threatened to jump on Handel’s harpsichord and smash it to pieces, if he persisted in continuing in that manner.  Handel is said to have replied, “Oh! Let me know when you will do that, and I will advertise it. For I am sure more people will come to see you jump, than to hear you sing.”

One night in Dublin, a violinist (Matthew Dubourg – 1703-67), while playing a solo part, wandered through complex modulations in an improvised cadenza and eventually returned to the tonic.  Handel is said to have cried out loud enough to be heard even in the most remote parts of the theater, “You are welcome home, Mr. Dubourg.”

Psalm 16:10 is repeated in Acts 2:27 during Peter’s sermon to the crowd who had just seen tongues of fire coming down from heaven.  Peter wanted them to be fully aware of the work God had done in Jesus, that even though he had been killed on the cross, God had raised him from the dead and freed him from the agony of death.

In Acts 2:29-36, Peter preaches!  He tells them that David died and was buried. In fact, they could go see his tomb, but God had promised David one day a descendant of his would be on his throne.  God raised Jesus Christ, that same descendant from the grave and Peter attests that everyone there was witnesses to that fact.

Even though David didn't ascend to heaven, Jesus Christ certainly did and was seated at the right hand of God and poured out the Holy Spirit upon the earth, which they also saw and heard.

“Therefore,” Peter said, “let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Messiah).”

Death could not hold Him.  He conquered it and ascended to heaven. We do not worship a dead God, we worship a living Messiah!

December 19 - Messiah - Isaiah 53:8

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

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December 19 - Messiah - Isaiah 53:8

He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgressions of Thy people was He stricken.

Charles Jennens had supplied texts for Handel’s oratorio, Saul from 1738, Belshazzar in 1744 and was involved with Israel in Egypt, also from 1738.  They didn’t really get along.  As much as Jennens admired Handel, he was not afraid to criticize his work.  It is said that Handel later chose to work with lesser, but more amiable writers.  However, that didn’t stop Jennens’ admiration of the man or his support.  He had been collecting Handel’s scores since 1725 as a subscriber and his immense library of Handel’s work continues to be a great resource.

For the sins of the people, Christ was killed.

He knew that it was necessary.

In John 12, when he told his disciples that the hour had come, he said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).  His death was necessary so that the world would be saved.

He goes on in John 12:31-32 and says, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Jesus Christ had to die to break the hold that sin … that the prince of this world had on humanity.  He was the sacrificial lamb, the purest sacrifice possible.  In him there was no sin, but he gave his life as a sacrifice so that sin would no longer have power over us, so that we could find forgiveness and then be in a complete and whole relationship with God.

For our sins, Christ was killed.  It was for us that He came to earth. It was all for us.

December 18 - Messiah - Lamentations 1:12

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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December 18 - Messiah - Lamentations 1:12

Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow.

Handel was a man filled with passions.  Those who were nice describe him as robust, others might have called him corpulent. His passion for food was nothing, though, in comparison with his passion for his music.  One of his servants remarked that as he wrote the music for Messiah, he wept at times, he was so overcome.  However, sometimes his passions erupted in fury. One anecdote is of a time when he was being shaved. A Mr. Brown came to him asking if he would like to see a set of organ concertos composed by a Rev. William Felton. Rather than simply saying, “no,” Handel leaped out of the chair, his face still filled with lather and said, “Damn yourself and go to the devil! A parson compose a concerto! Why doesn't he compose a sermon?”  Mr. Brown saw there were razors in the reach of the enraged man and ran for his life.

Jesus Christ knew sorrow. He wept for Jerusalem.  After the Pharisees instructed him to tell those who were following him to be quiet after they had sung praises to God for everything they had seen him doing, he walked on toward Jerusalem. In Luke 19, he began to weep when he saw the city, saying, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but not it is hidden from your eyes.” He knew that the city would be destroyed an in Luke 19:44b, says, “They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

He wept when he found that his friend Lazarus had died.  Jesus saw Mary, Lazarus’ sister weeping and Scripture says he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled (John 11:33), then we read that he wept.

In Mark 8, Jesus has just finished feeding four thousand people.  The Pharisees confront him and then ask for a sign from heaven.  We read, “He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.’” (Mark 8:12).  He knew that it didn't matter what signs and miracles he performed. They would never believe and these people would never see God.

Andrew and Philip had come to Jesus to ask if a group of Greeks could speak to him, but Jesus told them that the hour had come in John 12.  It was ever present in his mind, but now it was time to tell his disciples.  In John 12:27, Jesus says, “Now my heart is troubled and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”

Jesus is the one man who actually carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He was a man of sorrows and yet … in all things, he reminded us to glorify God’s name.

December 17 - Messiah - Psalm 69:20

Monday, December 17, 2012

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December 17 - Messiah - Psalm 69:20

Thy rebuke hath broken His heart: He is full of heaviness. He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man, neither found He any to comfort him.

If you think Christians get too judgmental sometimes and try to stop others from having fun, this isn't new.  Handel’s music, as well as the theater, were thought of as profane and subversive in the 1700s.  Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels) was at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and nearly stopped the performance there. He threatened to forbid his singers to participate.  He finally relented, but when Handel took Messiah to London the next year, he advertised it as a Sacred Oratorio so he wouldn't be accused of blasphemy.

In Psalm 69:20, David is complaining to God about those who hate him.  His heart is broken and there was no one around to give him comfort.  The only one who offered comfort was God himself.

David wanted punishment for his tormentors  He called for God to pour our His indignation on them, to destroy them. He asked for God to add to them punishment upon punishment and to blot them out of the book of the living.

Jesus, on the other hand, may have looked for comfort and pity from those around him, but in the end offered forgiveness for all who had tormented him.  His comfort and restoration couldn't happen while he was still on earth, he had to get through the torment and the pain in order to save God’s people.  He had to do it willingly and he had to do it alone, not only for those who loved him while he was on earth, be even for those who wounded him.

When we are called to be like Christ, we aren't called to bring down God’s vengeance on our enemies like David, but to cry out for their forgiveness and trust in God alone for our salvation.

December 16 - Messiah - Psalm 22:7-8

Sunday, December 16, 2012

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December 16 - Messiah - Psalm 22:7-8

All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn; they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying: "He trusted in God that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him."

While some didn't appreciate Handel’s talent, composers we know well did.  Haydn, upon hearing the Hallelujah Chorus exclaimed, “He is the master of us all.”  Mozart said about Handel, “Handel understands effect better than any of us – when he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt … though he often saunters, in the manner of his time, this is always something there.”  Beethoven said, “Handel is the greatest composer that ever lived … I would uncover my head and kneel down at his tomb.”  J.S. Bach said, “[Handel] is the only person I would wish to see before I die, and the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach.”

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, Matthew tells us that everyone who passed by the cross and saw Jesus hanging there mocked him.  Even Jewish leaders did this, using these words from Psalm 22 as they said, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:43)

But, Jesus didn't do what they expected Him to do.  He didn't call on God to deliver him; He committed His life into God’s hands, knowing that His sacrifice was necessary to offer salvation to those very same people who were mocking Him.  Without this necessary step in the history of the world, nothing more could be accomplished for the Kingdom of God.

It would have been easy for those who were close to Jesus to be angry at His death … and especially to be angry at the manner in which He died.  He had done nothing to deserve what He received at the hands of the soldiers.  And there was no one among His friends and family who could possibly understand how necessary His death was for the salvation of the world.

God delivered us because of His sacrifice.  We are the ones in whom God delights and has gone to great lengths to save.

December 15 - Messiah - Isaiah 53:3-6; Isaiah 50:6

Saturday, December 15, 2012

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December 15 - Messiah - Isaiah 53:3-6; Isaiah 50:6

He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows! He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.  And with His stripes we are healed. 

He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off His hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting.

There are many anecdotes of Handel’s life – this is one of my favorites! (source unknown)

Handel is said to have detested hearing the tuning of instruments, and therefore, this was always done before he arrived at the theater. A prankster, stole into the orchestra, one night when the Prince of Wales was to be present, and untuned all the instruments. As soon as the Prince arrived, Handel gave the signal to begin, con spirito; but such was the horrible discord, that the enraged composer started up from his seat, and having overturned a double-bass which stood in his way, he seized a kettle-drum, which he threw with such violence at the leader of the orchestra, that he lost his full-bottomed wig in the effort. Without waiting to replace it, he advanced bare-headed to the front of the orchestra, breathing vengeance, but was so choked with passion that he was unable to speak. He stood there staring and stamping amidst the audience's laughter. The Prince went to him in person and with much difficulty appeased his wrath. Only then would Handel resume his seat at the instrument.

There is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friend. (John 15:13)  We know those words to be true, and we know that Jesus Christ called us friend, proving it be dying for our sins.  But, he also took great pain and shame for us as well.

For the one who is to be called King to allow public humiliation by allowing himself to be spat upon is beyond what most of us would ever consider. We don’t take humiliation well, no matter the reason.  We fight back with everything we have.  We won’t allow people to say bad things about us, our family, our church, our sports team, our town, our country.  We fight.  He bore it all.

He didn’t just die on the cross, though that was the worst possible death a man could face. Before he went through that, he was whipped and beaten, a crown of thorns forced on his head.  He didn’t do this because he had committed a crime, but because we were sinners.  

To bring us peace, he offered his life – not only His spirit, but His body as well.  To take away our grief, he offered himself.  For the healing of our lives, he was beaten.

We have been given the gift of life, peace and healing and we can’t ignore the gift.  It came at too great a cost. When we spend too much time complaining about the terrible costs that life seems to exact from us; we must remember that this gift was given in order that we might have abundant joy.

The pain that He bore was so that we could live without sin; so we can live in love.  That is how we show our gratitude.

December 14 - Messiah - John 1:29

Friday, December 14, 2012

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December 14 - Messiah - John 1:29

Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.

When Handel closed his theater, he had reached the lowest point in his career.  He left public life completely in 1741. In fact, no one really knew where he was.  Those in London figured he was finished and would never be seen again.  The King didn't care whether he was seen at Court any longer because it seemed he was a failure.

John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and says to the crowd who is there, “Look!”

The Lamb of God comes to us as part of the flock.  But, he also comes as the Passover Lamb who is the offering, the sacrifice, which is set forth for our sins.  John’s message was one of repentance. Before the Lamb of God had even arrived on the scene, John was calling his followers to repent of their sins, to turn back from the things which separated them from God.

During the season of Advent, while we decorate our homes and purchase gifts to share with those we love, we thrill with anticipation as we look to Christmas morning.  But, it is also a time in which we are reminded to prepare our hearts for the coming … not of the Christ-child, but the Messiah as he returns to gather us all into the New Heaven and New Earth.  It is a chance to look forward to the Second Coming of Christ.

We have much to be thankful for. Our sins have been taken away by the sacrifice of the One who will come to judge us in the last days.  He is our salvation.

December 13 - Messiah - Matthew 11:28-30

Thursday, December 13, 2012

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December 13 - Messiah - Matthew 11:28-30

Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take his yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

Handel was born in Germany, became inspired by Italian opera while in Berlin and moved to Hamburg at the age of 18 to pursue it.  He realized that for him to be successful, it would be necessary to have a greater international reputation, so traveled to Italy at the age of twenty-one, becoming famous for his skill at the organ and as a composer.  In 1710, he returned to Germany as Kapellmeister to the court in Hanover, and in that year made the first trip to London to ensure the performance of one of his operas went well.  He would soon move to England.

I remember the first time I saw and understood what a yoke looked like.  I was young and in the 1960s, we weren't that many decades from the period of time when farmers still used horses and oxen to plow their fields. In fact, I had an uncle who continued to use them long past the advent of tractors, because he wasn't ready to move to modernity quite yet.

Yokes were generally made from wood and were heavy things. No man (or woman) would want to take on the weight of that, but Jesus says that many of us still do so.  We take on worries and burdens that we shouldn't because we don’t know any better.  I have several friends who worry about every little thing in their life as well as the lives of everyone around them.  They worry and fret when others won’t change their lives in order to live well.  It makes absolutely no sense to them why others can’t see the truth of the world … so they worry.  They worry over their job and worry about others careers. They worry over money and everything that comes with that.  Everything is a burden to this person and sometimes the weight of it all seems to overwhelm them.

This is a yoke that is heavy, especially when one person carries it for the entire world.

It seems ridiculous on the face of it, but Jesus offers another yoke and says it is easy and the burden he lays on each of us is light.  He brings rest and peace, not stress and strain.  Whatever He asks of us, He promises to carry it with us, so we never have to face a heavy burden alone again.

Throw off the yoke that you have shouldered, release your worry.  Jesus says in Matthew 6:25 “… do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”

Do not worry, do not yoke yourself to stress over things you cannot control.  He will provide rest for the soul.

December 12 - Messiah - Isaiah 40:11

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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December 12 - Messiah - Isaiah 40:11

He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Neither Handel nor Jennens intended for Messiah to be a sacred work.  Jennens called it “a fine Entertainment,” and it was rarely performed in a church.  However, the public began to understand that when they attended a performance of Messiah, they were participating in worship.  In 1758, John Wesley attended a rare performance of the oratorio in a church and commented that he doubted if the congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance.  Handel didn’t intend for it to be used for evangelical purposes, it was to be performed in order to delight and charm his listeners.

Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd in John 10:11. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This is not like a hired hand who runs at the first sign of trouble.  The good shepherd cares more for his sheep than himself.

In John 10:14, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

The people of Israel were the sheep Jesus knew and those who were ready to hear the good news of the coming of the Messiah, knew him.  They trusted him and were willing to follow.

It is in this passage, we see Jesus signify that the rest of the world would be included in his flock when he says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice; and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

The shepherd cares for his flock, doing everything possible to ensure their health and safety.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He came to lay down his life for his flock.

December 11 - Messiah - Isaiah 35:5-6

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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December 11 - Messiah - Isaiah 35:5-6

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.

Handel had originally intended the oratorio to be performed during Lent, but in 1791, annual performances of the piece during Christmas became a tradition and in 1818, the Handel and Haydn society of Boston offered the first complete performance of Messiah on Christmas Day, beginning a tradition that still continues.

The fulfillment of this passage in Isaiah is found throughout the Gospels.  The King which Israel hoped for would also bring healing to her people.

Jesus healed a man who had been born blind in John 9:1-41.  The disciples asked Jesus if his blindness was because of a sin that either he or his parents had committed, but Jesus responded that none of that was true, but that this blindness would be proof of the work of God in his life.  He announced that He (Jesus) was the light of the world.  Blindness would be set aside as His light shone throughout the world, then he made some mud, placed it on the man’s eyes and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam.  When the mud washed away, the man could see. Light had come to him.

In Mark 7:31-37, we read the story of a man who was deaf and because of that, could not speak clearly.  Jesus placed his fingers into the man’s ears and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and said “Be opened!”  At this, the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was loosened and he could speak plainly.

The story of Jesus healing a paralytic at Capernaum is found in Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26.  Jesus was teaching in a home. There were many people who had come to hear him, including Pharisees and lawyers.  But, some young men had brought a friend who was paralyzed.  They couldn’t get through the crowd, so they carried him to the roof and pulled back the part of the roof where Jesus was. Then, they lowered their friend so he was right in front of Jesus. Jesus recognized the intensity of the faith of the friends and said to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven.” At that, the man stood and walked on his own.

Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Let our hearts sing as one who was once dumb.

December 10 - Messiah - Zechariah 9:9-10

Monday, December 10, 2012

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December 10 - Messiah - Zechariah 9:9-10

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen.

Messiah was the first of many English oratorios for Handel; he never wrote another opera. Many of the performances we see today were not what he had originally intended because of his concern regarding availability of musicians.  The soloists were not separate from the choir, and there were many more than the four we generally see today (soprano, alto, tenor, bass). His original orchestra was simply a small string ensemble with the addition of trumpets and timpani.

In Revelation 12, the story of the Woman and the Dragon is told. It is a radically condensed version of the story of the Messiah’s birth, from the perspective of heaven. The woman who gives birth to the child is not Mary, but Israel.  She is clothed with the sun and has the moon under her feet. A crown of twelve stars is on her head.

Joseph had a dream about his family, as told in Genesis 37:37:9-10, In it we find he had the sun and moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. Jacob is the sun, Rachel is the moon and the twelve tribes of Israel are the stars.

This woman represents more than just a single individual. In Hosea 2:19-20, God tells Israel that He will betroth her to Himself. In Isaiah 54:5, He tells Israel that their Creator (Maker) is her husband. In Isaiah 9:6, we read “For unto US a child is born, to US a son is given …”

Mary was the vessel, but Israel is the mother of the Messiah. The entire nation of Israel is the US to whom this child is born.  He will come as king and Savior and he will bring peace.

In Micah 5:2, we recognize a familiar verse, but there is part of this that we rarely hear during the Christmas season. “But you, Bethlehem Ephratha, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

The last portion of that sentence astounds me. From Bethlehem comes one of ancient times … He comes from eternity.

Israel is the bride of God. She was chosen by Him to be His light to the peoples of the world. The sun – Jacob (Israel), the moon – Rachel, the twelve stars – the twelve tribes, the beginning of this great nation’s existence. And from this bride … Israel, comes the Savior of the world.

Rejoice!  Rejoice Greatly!

December 9 - Messiah - Luke 2:8-11; 13-14

Sunday, December 9, 2012

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December 9 - Messiah - Luke 2:8-11; 13-14

There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them: "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."

And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men."

The first performance of Messiah took place in Dublin, five months after he arrived there.  He used two local choirs and hired a local orchestra; Handel directed the oratorio from the harpsichord.  It was a hit.  So much money was raised that it is said over 140 people were released from debtors prison.  It took ten months and the success of Messiah to give Handel confidence to return to London and ready to support what he called “the Oratorio way.”

This might be one of my favorite passages from the Christmas story.  It is filled with imagery that I cannot help but see in my mind’s eye.

In a quiet field, early one morning, shepherds are gathered around talking quietly while their flocks meander aimlessly, nibbling at whatever bits of grass they find.  One may be leaning on a large rock, relaxed and laughing. Another has come back from wandering among the sheep, ensuring they are fine.  He is leaning on his staff, listening to the stories as they are told.  Another is drawing in the ground, as he illustrates part of the story.  There is a small fire which lights up his face and you can see the winkle in his eye as he waits to deliver the punch line.  A fourth man separates himself just a bit from the activity around the fire, keeping an ear and an eye out for predators.

They have brought a couple of young boys with them this evening, maybe sons or nephews of the men. The boys are learning what must be done to care for the sheep which are the livelihood for their families.  The boys are in awe of the stories they hear, not realizing that one day they will be in the same position and will be relating tales to their friends.  Their faces are bright with anticipation, wondering what the end of the story will be.

All of a sudden, the group of men is shocked by a great light in which they see the form of an angel.  These men had never seen anything like it.  Their lives had been simple and content.  They knew the stars in the sky and the hillsides on which they took their flocks to graze.  They knew the many people in the community where they lived and they knew each other.  These things were constants in their lives, an angel who brought the glory of the Lord to their little gathering was exciting and new.  No longer would they be thinking about the stories being told, but about the story which was just beginning.

Then the angel said, “I bring you good news. In Bethlehem, the Savior of the world, the Messiah has been born.”

Before those words could sink into their hearts, a great company of angels filled the sky around them, blotting out the stars they knew so well. The angels sang together, “Glory to God in the Highest, Peace on earth, good will to men.”

This is what I see when I hear these words.

December 8 - Messiah - Isaiah 9:6

Saturday, December 8, 2012

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December 8 - Messiah - Isaiah 9:6

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

Handel composed the music to Messiah in less than a month.  He wrote the music for Part I in six days, Part II in nine days and only three days were spent on Part III.  What makes this even more astounding is that rather than compose by combining new music and existing pieces from other works, everything was written specifically for this oratorio, it was all new composition.  Messiah was also the only time he used a libretto that took its text from both the Old and New Testaments of scripture.

The Israelites hoped and prayed for a king to relieve them of their oppression at the hands of outsiders.  They had been led by kings both good and bad and finally had been taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  They were looking to the future and seeing a grand ruler who would bring peace.

There is no greater hope for a father, than that his child will live a better life than the one he lived or that his child will be great and maybe even famous, that the child will achieve all the goals, the parent felt like they missed.

Israel had the same hope for a future Messiah.  This child would be strong enough to shoulder the responsibility of governing them.  He would be called wonderful and would be a counselor, understanding and guiding his people; he would be God on earth, the father of their nation and would be a prince who brought peace.

Even as we live in a nation which is at peace; we still feel the stress and strain of war around us.  Finding the One who brings peace to our hearts and to the world would change everything.

It does change everything.  Peace can be ours. The Prince of Peace has come.

December 7 - Messiah - Isaiah 9:2

Friday, December 7, 2012

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December 7 - Messiah - Isaiah 9:2

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Handel began writing oratorios after his opera company went out of business.  In the 1730s, Italian opera companies were a big deal. Now, it wouldn't have been that far of a reach for him to begin writing Italian oratorios, however, he wrote in English. This changed everything. He was one of the first to do so and with that change; he could no longer rely on Italian opera stars from Europe, but had to use local talent. Because the oratorio was performed in many different places, Handel himself continually revised the score, transposing arias for different ranges, deleting others and adding new ones to fit the available singers.  There are many different versions of Messiah available, all written by Handel.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. The end of a tough semester for a student, the close of a bad relationship, a project nearing completion, a performance after months of rehearsals … after moving through life with our heads bent down, concentrating on the task at hand, we look up and see light.  The light brings hope of release and relief.

The world continues to live in darkness.  We worry about everything, from what to wear and how we look, to how to pay bills and meet the needs of our family who relies on us; from war on a global to the next battle we face with our family, a coworker, our boss or even a friend. Sometimes it seems as if the world out there is a never-ending source of bleakness and darkness, and we don’t know when we will next see light at the end of the tunnel.

The Israelites were in the midst of darkness and the only hope they could find was in the far future. The Messiah would come to bring light to the world.  Even though they might not see it, they hoped and prayed that one day their descendants would experience the glory that came from a Savior sent by God.

Can you imagine living in a world that had not been changed by Jesus Christ? It’s difficult for me to fathom the unending darkness that would surround us.  But, we don’t have to live that way.

The Messiah has come. His light fills the world.  Those battles we face, the seeming bleakness we see, are all things which can be set aside by allowing that light to be made manifest within ourselves.  We no longer live without hope. The Messiah has come.

December 6 - Messiah - Isaiah 60:1-3

Thursday, December 6, 2012

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December 6 - Messiah - Isaiah 60:1-3

Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

One thing Handel was a master at and is seen (or heard) throughout Messiah is text painting.  When you hear words or phrases, the music paints those so the listener has a complete aural experience.  If the text says “the crooked shall be made straight,” the music used on the word crooked will alternate between notes, while that used on the word straight will be one long tone.  In this passage from Isaiah 60, darkness covers the earth until the Lord arises!  The music ascends on the word glory to the top of the singer’s range.  If you pay attention, you will be thrilled when you heard what Handel does.

In autumn in the Midwest, both sunrise and sunset are filled with beautiful colors.  People have told me this is due to particles from harvest season in the atmosphere and when winter finally sets in and the air completely dries out, we will see less color.

Sunrise is an amazing sight to see as brilliant oranges and golds, reds and yellows break through the darkness revealing daylight.  Isaiah shows us that imagery in these words.  Darkness has filled the earth; it even fills the hearts of the people.  However, there is no darkness that can hold out against the light of the Lord when He arises.  Isaiah offered hope to the Israelites who felt as if they were surrounded by utter darkness in the world.  We have that same hope. When we feel as if everything around us is bleak and there seems to be no hope, the light of the Lord arises within us.  We will see his glory.

The Israelites were to be a light to the Gentiles, yet when they couldn’t because they were so caught up in their own despair, God made another way.  The Messiah would bring light to their darkness.  The Gentiles and all the kings of the earth will find their way to His light and new life.

December 5 - Messiah - Isaiah 40:9

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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December 5 - Messiah - Isaiah 40:9

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God!

Messiah is written in three parts.  The first part relates the prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah, part two tells of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and the third part reminds us of the freedom humanity has in life because of His sacrifice.

This is good news!

Tell Jerusalem that the Messiah is coming.  Stand on the mountaintops and shout out loud, Jesus is here!  Say to the cities of Judah, Look!  Here He is!

One great thing about social networking is that we have the opportunity to know everything that is going on.  Is your favorite musician on tour and going to be in a city nearby?  They tell you as soon as they know their schedule. Are you waiting for a great movie to come out?  You will know before you see the trailers in theaters.  Can you hardly wait for the next book in your favorite series? The author lets you know personally what they are doing and how long it will take for the book to get to your bookstore or electronic device.

The world is constantly shouting at you and telling what great news it has for you. You do not have to miss a thing.

The thing is, Jesus didn't come into the world announcing his arrival.  He didn't prepare us for three months, delivering announcements on a daily basis to our inboxes and social media accounts.  No, that was a task given to others.  The angels announced His birth, John the Baptist announced the arrival of the Messiah’s ministry, and we are called to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ’s work in our lives and in the lives of everyone who calls Him Lord.

Tell the world that Jesus is here.  Stand on the mountaintop and deliver the Good News.

The Messiah is coming!  The Messiah is here!

December 4 - Messiah - Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

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December 4 - Messiah - Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23

Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us.

Messiah was never meant to be performed in a church.  While scripture is the foundation for the oratorio, this piece was designed for a theater. It is more like a surrogate opera, something that everyone should hear, not simply people who believe in Christ. If people were affected by the oratorio and found they wanted to go to church, that was fine; but neither proselytizing nor preaching was the main purpose of this piece.  Messiah was the only oratorio of Handel’s to ever be performed in a sacred building while Handel was alive.  During the last ten years of his life, it was performed every year in the chapel of the Foundling Hospital, the charity which received its funds from the performance of this oratorio.

The Savior of the World, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  When Isaiah spoke those words, people would have wondered at the possibility. But, these were people whose history was filled with the Exodus and Elijah, Elisha, King David, Gideon, Joshua, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph.  They might have heard tales from other cultures about virgin births, but they knew that the Lord God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, the Creator of all the existed was able to bring salvation to all because they knew what had happened in their own history.  So, they began praying for the moment when this would occur.

Simeon (Luke 2:25-32) had been praying and waiting for the coming of the consolation of Israel. The Holy Spirit told him that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.  When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for circumcision, he was there to praise God. He saw the salvation which God had prepared as a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Israel.  The moment in time for which the people of Israel had been praying, had arrived.

December 3 - Messiah - Malachi 3:1-3

Monday, December 3, 2012

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December 3 - Messiah - Malachi 3:1-3

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner's fire. And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.

Jennens had hoped Handel would have The Messiah ready to perform in London during the Holy Week, but instead, Handel took it to Dublin and worrying that the oratorio was too different, he introduced the audiences there to his music before producing The Messiah.  Then, he and the principal performers offered their services for free in order to benefit three Dublin charities.  Dublin loved him, but when he returned to London, there was much criticism – from papers who felt that The Word of God shouldn't be performed in such a lowly setting (a theater) to Jennens himself who felt that Handel hadn't done as well as he could have with the music he had written.  It wasn't until seven or eight years later that The Messiah became popular in London, and that wasn't until Handel began performing it for charities.

The covenant between the Lord and His people was at stake.  His messenger was coming to negotiate with the people.  The problem was, they had not fulfilled their side of the covenant agreement and believed they were in great danger.

Messengers were often used this way in that part of the world.  They delivered bad news and the consequences thereof with impunity if need be.  For the Israelites, the time had come.  They had set themselves above the Word of the Lord and were no longer obedient to the covenant they had agreed to from the very beginning.  They might be circumcised at birth, but it no longer held them true to their agreement.  They had allowed sin and the things of the outside world to pervade their lives to the extent that they no longer had much time for God, much less lived their lives in a manner He would find pleasing.  The priests, the ones who were to lead the people in worship and come before the Lord in holiness, were corrupt. It seemed there was no goodness left.

The only thing that would bring them back would be like a refiner’s fire.  Burn off the dross, separate the pure metal from the inconsistencies.

When Jesus came to earth the first time, he came to confront humanity with its sin and then to offer an opportunity for complete forgiveness, purification moderated by mercy and grace. When he returns a second time, mercy and grace will be no more. He will come in judgment.  Righteousness will be the only thing left to choose so that humanity can live in eternity with God the Father.

December 2 - Messiah - Haggai 2:6-7

Sunday, December 2, 2012

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December 2 - Messiah - Haggai 2:6-7

Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts: Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come.

You might notice that I’m using what seems to be the King James version of Scripture.  These are taken straight from the libretto of the Messiah, which was written by Charles Jennens. Incorporating texts from both the Old and New Testaments, he also used the Book of Common Prayer for the texts of the Psalms and made small changes in the text in order to combine passages.

It was Jennens who brought his libretto to Handel. They had worked together on several projects previously and Jennens was in awe of Handel’s work, collecting every piece of music he had written and traveling to London often to hear his pieces performed.  Handel had used two other texts and Jennens was preparing this collection of scripture for a period of time in which Handel had chosen not to write. The subject?  The Messiah.

The text from Haggai comes from a passage in which the author is trying to stir the people into excitement at the daunting prospect of rebuilding the Temple as they return from Exile.

Haggai reminds the people that it is from the Lord that all blessings are given.  If they choose to listen to Haggai, they are listening to the word of the Lord and if they choose to reject him, they are rejecting the word of the Lord. So, when Haggai says, “Thus saith the Lord,” he is declaring that his words are important for the people of Israel. They are more than just words from a prophet, they are the words of the Lord of hosts.

Haggai told the people that the Lord would shake the heavens and earth, the sea and dry land. There will be nothing that the Lord won’t do to bring this Temple back into being and establish a means by which the people of earth can worship Him.  As the earth shakes, the nations of the world would supply the funds to rebuild the Temple.

Isaiah 60:5 also speaks of the wealth of nations being sent to Zion, “Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.”

The nations of the world will help to rebuild Jerusalem and its Temple, a place in which all of humanity can worship the Lord.

Jesus Christ is the desire of all nations.  The Temple itself was about to be rebuilt and Cyrus of Persia would supply the funds by which that happened, and while this allowed the Israelites to return home and have a place where they could worship the Lord of Hosts, it wouldn't be until the desire of all nations, the Messiah arrived, that the world would find its way to worship God, the Creator.

December 1 – Messiah - Isaiah 40:1-5

Saturday, December 1, 2012

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December 1 – Messiah - Isaiah 40:1-5

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40: 1-3)

Ev'ry valley shall be exalted, and ev'ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain. (Isaiah 40: 4)

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40: 5)

Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

If you've ever sung The Messiah, you are probably hearing these words musically rather than simply reading them. If you've never heard them, find a way.  This music was a favorite in our house nearly any time of the year. I can still see the white 33 rpm book package with red lettering on it. We would open it and leaf through the albums until we got to our favorite portions, then play them over and over.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord!


When John the Baptist came on the scene, he called for repentance.  This was what would make a straight highway for the Lord.  Our valleys and mountains leveled out, the crooked places made straight in our lives and the rough places smooth.

Repentance, turning aside from the wild ups and downs, no more veering to the left or to the right, but following the straight path that leads from darkness into light.  Repentance, leaving behind the old and allowing the new life that comes from knowing Jesus Christ personally to fill every part of us.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

The old has past, the new has come.  Jesus Christ is here.  Everything that once bound you to darkness is gone.  The glory of the Lord is revealed.

November 30 – To Know Your Place

Friday, November 30, 2012

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November 30 – To Know Your Place

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Imagine my surprise over the last few years when one of the most basic things I absolutely knew was upended.  I grew up knowing there were five senses: touch, sight, taste, scent, and hearing.  That was it. The knowledge was firm and solid.  Then, I began reading about and hearing about other senses.

Our bodies react to things like temperature, time, and pain. But, one that many point to as a sixth sense is our equilibrium and balance.  This system in our inner ear allows us to sense our body’s movement, the direction we go and the rate of speed at which we are moving. The kinesthetic sense that tells us where our body is, so we can touch our own nose with the tip of a finger, even if our eyes are closed, is also part of this.  These two things help us know our place in the universe.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet … (Psalm 8:3-6).

We can sense our place, but sometimes we forget who we are.  We are more than flesh and blood. We are more than our five (or however many) senses. We are more than the things we do and experience.  We are unique as a creation of God.  And it is Him who resides within us that gives us our identity.

“But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding." (Job 32:8)

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:26)

We are made up of particles from the universe around us, as common as dirt, but to the Lord of all Creation, to the ruler of the universe, we are everything!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

“…and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” (Revelation 1:5)

When you stand up today and retain your balance, when you shut your eyes and touch your nose with the tip of your finger, when you see a sunset or hear a beautiful song, when you taste holiday goodies or smell cookies baking; you have been given an extraordinary gift. You have been given life by the Creator.

“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Your place … your time in the world is now.  You have been created and are loved by God Almighty.

November 29 – To Touch

Thursday, November 29, 2012

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November 29 – To Touch

In the New Testament we see Jesus reaching out to touch people time and again in order to heal them.

A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.” (Matthew 8:2-3)

When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. (Matthew 8:15)

Two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”   “Yes, Lord,” they replied.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you’; and their sight was restored. (Matthew 8:27-29)

These are just a few of the instances where healing came through Jesus’ touch.  When I did a web search on the power of touch, one of the first references came from WebMD.  A touch, even from a stranger, will help to lower anxiety when faced with stressful news.  It helps babies grow and assists children as they attempt to concentrate in school, it is also known to reduce chronic illness and disease.

Research as well as anecdotal evidence proves that touch has the power to relieve stress and thus to heal, it has the power to create bonds between people, to help them connect in amazing ways; yet we still find it difficult to reach beyond ourselves in order to touch someone.  Children in all sorts of homes, no matter the level of wealth, live without affectionate touch.

My mother was one of those children.  The only person who ever touched her as an infant was a nurse hired to care for her.  It took her a long time as an adult to be comfortable with that type of love.  My father, on the other hand, was very affectionate and spent those years teaching Mom and assuring her that it was OK to be affectionate with her children.  There are pictures of her holding me on her lap, but if you look closely enough, you see that it isn't a snuggle moment, it is a professional attitude adopted for the photographer.

I didn't know that about her, though, because I was my father’s daughter.  I remember my mother as being affectionate, but my sister doesn't  It’s because I was the one who moved in to Mom for the hugs and snuggles.  I was constantly hugging her or holding on to her arm. I would curl up beside her on the sofa or crawl into her lap when she was in the recliner. When she was dying in the hospital, I crawled into the bed beside her so we could just hold on.  She never refused my affection; she just didn't know how to initiate it.

I am still that way. I surprise waitstaff in restaurants when I touch their forearm as I’m telling them how much I appreciate their service.  Their smiles grow enormously because of a connection that was made.  That’s all it takes … a touch.

November 28 – To Taste

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

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November 28 – To Taste

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

How much of life do you experience through your tastebuds?  When you are at the ocean, do you taste the salt in the air? When you wake up in the morning, do you try to clear the fuzziness from your mouth so that you become more alert?

We have more than ten thousand taste buds on both the tongue and roof of our mouth. When saliva breaks down the food we eat, the brain responds to the information, telling us what flavor we are tasting.  Although the sense of taste is one of our weakest senses, we receive a great deal of information as things pass through our lips.  We experience an intense range of tastes, from sour to sweet, salty to bitter.

Think about the metaphors we use for life around us as we experience moments.  Bittersweet is used to describe moments that are both happy and sad, someone who is salty might be a little risqué in their speech and we've all experienced more than our share of sour people.  When something goes badly for us, we might say it leaves a sour taste in our mouth.  When someone does something nice to us, we refer to them as sweet.  A person who spends more time being unhappy is probably a bitter person.

All of these things are part of the experience of being human, so why would we not want to taste and see that the Lord is good?  The Psalmist tells us to experience all that the Lord has to offer us.  Tasting and experiencing are the same thing.  Peter tells his readers that they have already tasted … or experienced the Lord and have found that the relationship with Him is good.  Now that they are certain of that fact, it is time for them to grow past the ease of acting like babies and grow up.

The Lord has created us to be such wonderful beings and given us the ability to experience the world around us in so many different and creative ways.  Tasting the world is yet another way we have to experience the world.  Today, as you taste things, consider just how extraordinary that experience is.

November 27 – To Smell

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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November 27 – To Smell

The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21)

The priest shall take a handful of the flour and oil, together with all the incense, and burn this as a memorial portion on the altar, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Leviticus 2:2)

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. (Revelation 8:3-4)

Our sense of smell tells us a lot about things we’re going to encounter, from food to people to places and things.  I love the smell of lilacs in the spring or lilies on Easter Sunday morning. I used to work across the street from a barbecue restaurant and when they smoked their meat, my mouth began to salivate. The country has its own smells, rarely as attractive as those; from dead skunks to pig manure, you know you’re around farms. But, the scent of freshly mown grass, crops that are in the middle of harvest, and fields of clover all remind you of the beauty of the land.

For the Lord, the offerings of his people brought an aroma to Him that was pleasing. In the Old Testament, those various scents were released when burning on the altar.  It wasn't just the scent itself that was pleasing to the Lord, but the prayers that followed that scent into the throne room.

When Noah and his family opened the ark and released the animals into the world, the first thing they did was to build an altar and burn an offering to the Lord.  That scent was pleasing to Him.  When the children of the Exodus brought their sacrifices to the temple to be burned on the altar, the scent was pleasing because they were in obedience to His Law.

Long after the time of the Temple and burned sacrifice, our prayers are still before the Lord as a pleasing aroma. In Revelation we read that they lift up from the altar with incense as an offering.

The Lord is pleased when we pray and continue to build the relationship with Him that He wants to have with us.  Let our prayers be as an offering whose aroma is pleasing to the Lord.

November 26 – To Hear

Monday, November 26, 2012

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November 26 – To Hear

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Luke 8:11-15)

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say." (John 8:42-43)

I get frustrated when people look like they are listening, but I know their minds are a million miles away. Nothing I am saying to them means a thing because they aren't fully engaged in the conversation.

Any speaker can tell when even a few people aren't paying attention.  The worst thing is, for me, these are the people I begin to focus on, trying to do anything to grab their attention.  I've listened as many speakers and pastors talk about these people in their congregations.  Others might be listening, but their faces turn into bland and dull images.  They don’t actively listen and participate in what the speaker is delivering.

Then, there are those who are the joy of every speaker.  Their faces light up with excitement as they become part of the process.  Their eyes reflect the emotions the speaker is delivering and react to the words.  When they agree or get excited, their body language tells the speaker that they are right there with him or her; when they don’t get it, they let the speaker know there might be need for more explanation.  But, at every moment, these people are not only actively listening, but they are hearing beyond the words, they hear something that is being spoken from one heart to another.

Jesus said that the word of God is like seed.  Some people hear it and then lose it because they have no strong roots. It’s all very exciting and they are right there with the speaker and then, they quit listening and all of a sudden, it’s gone from their lives.  There are those who hear and actively listen and are so excited by what they hear, but the world rips them apart and they can’t rise above the worries.

It isn't always easy to hear the message of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ.  In fact, Jesus says that many will never be able to hear it.  They just won’t listen with open hearts.

But for those who do listen and hear and absorb the message of love, they will not only grow, but will produce fruit that is seen by everyone around them.

Do you listen? Will you hear?