“In The Bleak Midwinter”

In The Bleak Midwinter” is a lovely Christmas carol written by Christina Rossetti.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

In these two videos the words are sung to music composed by Gustav Holst.  The video of the Winchester Cathedral Choir features Harold Darke’s musical setting.

From the formality of Gloucester Cathedral to a coffee and tea cafe in California, Corrine May accompanies herself in a moving rendition of the song.

As different as the two locations are, the music and the words are right for both places.  But then, Christ came to all people, didn’t he?

“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.”
Luke 2:10

Copyright ©2012–2014 Iwana Carpenter

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“Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel!”

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah 7:14 (KJV)

The roots of the music of Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel! go back to the 15th century.1 The Messianic titles in the lyrics, called the O Antiphons, are from the Old Testament, and their use in liturgy goes back to the 8th century.2

The first letters of the titles taken backwards form a Latin acrostic of “Ero Cras” which translates to “Tomorrow, I will come”, mirroring the theme of the antiphons.3

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord)
O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (O Key of David)
O Oriens (O Dayspring)
O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations)
O Emmanuel (O God is with Us)

Start with Emmanuel and go backwards through the Latin names, taking the first letter of each to form the phrase, “Ero Cras.”

Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel! is one of the oldest songs heard during the Advent season. This video features an anonymous cornet soloist from Trefor, Wales.

This video has the lyrics of five verses, and this video features scenes from The Nativity Story.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…
Hebrews 1:1-2

In the December 2010 Jews for Jesus newsletter, Ceil Rosen described a high school chorus Christmas program in which she sang which included Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel! She wrote, “Though we had rehearsed those words many times, I suddenly found myself pondering their meaning. Was there something true about Jesus being for us Jews?” Then I Met Messiah. is her story as she told it in 1977.

“Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel….”

Alternate lyrics: Lutheran Worship hymnal, ECUSA 1871.
1O come, O come, Emmanuel, Tunes: Veni Emmanuel, Hymnary.org
2, 3O antiphons: Wikipedia.

Copyright ©2012–2014 Iwana Carpenter

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“And the Glory of the Lord”

The libretto of Messiah is taken from numerous books of the Bible: Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Lamentations, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews and Revelation. If you’re not familiar with the passages selected by Jennens, you can read them at the above link. The first five verses of Isaiah 40 are one of the passages set to music. The video below is Isaiah 40:5.

1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

3 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. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

5 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 40:1–5 KJV

Libretto: Old and New Testament Passages selected by Charles Jennens
Oratorio: George Frideric Handel
Antony Walker conducting the Orchestra of the Antipodes and Cantillation.

Christmas Candle Stars: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications: cropped with “Messiah” wording added.

Copyright ©2012–2014 Iwana Carpenter

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When I was growing up we attended a church with a large music program, and I first sang in a choir as a young child. In December our minister of music had all the choirs sing the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah. The adult choir was at the front of the church behind the ministers, while the children’s and youth choirs were in the side balconies next to the front. As the music began, the congregation stood, and then our combined choirs of all ages sang out those wonderful words from Revelation. It was an incredible experience.

Many people know that Handel wrote the music for Messiah. But what about the man who chose the Bible passages for its libretto?

In 2011 while reading about Messiah, I found an online article by Johan van Veen in which he quotes musicologist, Tassilo Erhardt, on the historical context in which Charles Jennens chose the Scripture used in Messiah.

Charles Jennens, who put together the libretto, only used texts from the Bible. That doesn’t leave many possibilities for an individual interpretation. Messiah isn’t like the 18th century passion-oratorio, which tells a story about the passion rather than the story of the passion itself. Messiah doesn’t deal with the idea of messiah as a concept…but with a very real, historical person, the Messiah who was promised by God in the Old Testament. That is also the conviction of the musicologist Tassilo Erhardt, who is preparing a doctoral thesis on Messiah (Handels Messias. Text – Musik – Theologie; in German). He writes in the programme book:

The concept of the Messiah has always been one of the most important topics in the Jewish religion. God promised his elected people to send hid [sic] ‘anointed one’, the redeemer, as the fulfillment of the history of salvation. His coming has been foretold by the prophets in many places in the Old Testament. Faithful Jews still await his coming. For Christians, God’s promise has come true through the incarnation of his son in Jesus of Nazareth. The belief in Jesus as the Messiah is therefore the fundation [sic] of Christian faith.

Against this background one can understand the furore caused when the deistic writer Anthony Collins [1676–1729]1 published two books, in which he undermines this tradition, in effect calling Jesus himself into question by throwing doubt on his role as the Messiah.2

Johan van Veen explains:

In the years thereafter more than 60 publications appeared in reply to Collins’ books with only one goal: to prove that Jesus was the Messiah as foretold in the Old Testament.3

van Veen again quotes Erhardt:

Charles Jennens, the librettist of Messiah, evidently possessed at least one of these publications, Bishop R. Kidder’s A Demonstration of the Messiah, in which more than half of the bible quotations used in Messiah are discussed in detail. Messiah must therefore not be seen as an oratorio like many others, but as an artistic contribution to a current theological debate. This explains also the unique form of the libretto. As its principal aim is not to tell the story of Jesus’ life, but to point out that the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah are fulfilled in the person of Jesus, Jennens avoided the narratives of the gospels almost entirely and describes the life and significance of Christ by means of allusion. In the case of Messiah we are dealing with much more than a mere compilation of Bible verses. The work has a strong message to tell, and the form in which this is done is a unique form of art.4

In his 2010 commencement address, For the Mouth of the Lord Hath Spoken It, Dr. Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke of Charles Jennens’ deep, personal concern regarding deism. Jennens’ younger brother committed suicide as a consequence of depression he suffered while questioning his Christian faith under the exacerbating influence of a deist.5 Some ten years later after choosing its Scripture, Jennens gave his libretto to Handel.6

On November 16, 2009 Tassilo Erhardt was a guest lecturer for an Oxford seminar titled:

‘“In which the truth of the Christian religion is proved”:
Handel’s Messiah as Christian apologetics’.7

Have you ever thought of Messiah as Christian apologetics—giving the witness of God’s Word to all people that Jesus is indeed Messiah? The passion and power of God’s Word in this libretto has now been heard and sung throughout the world. From great suffering God has made the good news of Jesus the Messiah known through this work. Over 250 years later, we still listen with awe to God’s Word set to music.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Romans 10:17

“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
Isaiah 55:11

Messiah is more than music; through His Word God gives hope to people shattered by sin. Emmanuel, God With Us.

“…and He shall reign for ever and ever….King of Kings, and Lord of Lords….Hallelujah!”

Libretto: Old and New Testament Passages selected by Charles Jennens
Oratorio: George Frideric Handel

Christmas Candle Stars: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications: cropped with “Messiah” wording added.
1Anthony Collins, Wikipedia.
2, 3, 4Johan van Veen, Handel’s Messiah staged Holland Festival Early Music 2000, musica Dei donum.
5Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., For the Mouth of the Lord Hath Spoken It.
6Calvin R. Stapert, Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People (Wm. B. Eerdmans: 2010) 77-78.
7Oxford University Gazette., 12 November 2009: Diary.

Copyright ©2012–2014 Iwana Carpenter

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The Messenger & The Messiah

You have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice?”

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.

“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.”
Malachi 2:17–3:4

Malachi was last of the postexilic prophets, and the last prophet in Judah for over 450 years until John the Baptist begins to preach—and when the angel announces John’s coming birth to Zacharias, he will quote from the very last verse in Malachi:

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
Malachi 4:5

Angel Appears to ZachariasThis will be John’s purpose and calling:

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Luke 1:13–17

Jesus Himself identified John as the messenger of Malachi 3:1:

As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’

Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Matthew 11:7–14

Do you know what the name Malachi means? Gleason Archer writes:

The most reasonable explanation for the meaning of Malachi (Mal’ ākī, Hebrew) is that it is hypocoristic [an endearing diminutive] for the full form Mal’ ak-Yah, or Messenger of Jehovah.1

So Malachi, Messenger of Jehovah, prophesies of John, the messenger who will go as a forerunner—‘to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’: Jesus the Christ, Messiah.

Архангел Гавриил поражает Захарию немотой The Angel Appears to Zacharias, Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov 1824.
1Gleason L. Archer, Jr., “Postexilic Prophets: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody Press, Chicago IL: 1966, 1974) 430.

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