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"MESSIAH" FED THE HUNGRY


When Handel wrote "Messiah" he had gone from riches to rags. For 30 years he had entertained Lords and Ladies with his operas. But those days seemed long past. Creditors were at his door. He was depressed. He could not sleep and he was plagued by rheumatism. He feared he would finish out his days in a London debtors prison. But, two letters arrived that summer of 1741 that would changed everything.


The first letter was an invitation from the Duke of Devonshire inviting him to the Irish Capital, Dublin, to produce a series of benefit concerts "For the relief of the prisoners in the several gaols (jails), and for the support of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen Street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inn’s Quay."


Shortly thereafter, a second letter arrived from a wealthy but somewhat eccentric English Land owner named Charles Jennens. He quickly opened the letter. Jennens had written some lyrics for him in the past. To his amazement the letter was a compilation of Old Testament and New Testament scripture passages. George read the words again and again. He was greatly moved and felt impressed to put them to music.


Handel locked himself in his study and within 7 days he had completed Part I -- the Christmas section or the oratorio. He presses on to Part II that focused on the Redemption and 9 days later that was finished. Then, in less than a week he completed Part III - The Resurrection and Future Reign of Christ portion.


The first presentation of Messiah was a charitable benefit. When Handel died, now wealthy from his success, he left the score of Messiah to a public Hospital where it supported the care of the poor and the sick. Charles Burney, 18th century music historian, remarked that Handel’s Messiah "fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and fostered the orphan."


(From a sermon by Mike Wilkins, "Advent with Handel’s Messiah")

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