Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. All the carols, the lights, the anticipation are a season of reflection for me, a season of contemplation. Several years ago, a new tradition was born in our house, one that became the most important part of Advent for our homeschool in December. The tradition is that of reading the words of Handel’s Messiah, learning more about their meaning, and listening to the music echo through our home.
“For unto us a child is born.” Isaiah 9:6
Words that all of us know so well.
“Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
Names that ring of the new born baby Jesus.
It wasn’t until my daughter received a copy of the book Messiah: The Greatest Sermon Ever Sung in the mail from its author, that the magnitude of the music really hit me. The book, written by ELS Pastor Tony Pittenger and illustrated by WELS artist Jonathan Mayer, became a treasure that we come back to year after year. Through its short commentary and beautiful illustrations, Handel’s Messiah comes to life.
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” Isaiah 9:2
The opening music I had never heard before. A beautiful prelude to carefully chosen scripture passages that tell the story of Christ.
“Handel’s Messiah begins with music that sounds sad and dismal, setting the mood. This dark music calls to mind men and women lost in unbelief, victims of violence, or all of us in bondage to decay and death.”
These opening words by Pastor Pittenger explain the otherwise confusing music at the beginning of the Messiah. The music does not begin with God incarnate. The music begins with the pain of death and eternal separation from God. But the music quickly changes. God does not leave his creation for lost.
“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
Every note Handel wrote he wrote with purpose. Every note highlights the story of salvation, from the fall into sin, to the anticipation and waiting of the Israelites, to the birth and death of Christ, and finally to the anticipation we have of Christ’s return.
The book my daughter received in the mail came with a message in the front cover. “I think that might be your mom and brother on page 4. And is that you on page 16? I DO know that both of us are pictured on page 15!” Pastor Pittenger and Jonathan Mayer, through their carefully chosen words and illustrations, bring clear meaning to this work of music and theology. We are part of Handel’s music, part of the story of Salvation. Music written so long ago, words written even before Christ was born are words and music written for us.
On December 6th at Heritage Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota, we all have the privilege to come hear more about Handel’s Messiah from the author of this special book, Pastor Pittenger. You can find more information and register to attend here.
Laura Mears is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, Joshua, homeschool their four children in Lakeville, MN.