It was 1741, and an old man was wandering the streets of London. His name was George Frederick Handel. At this point, he was angry at life. His mind kept going back to the time when he was famous and had the applause of royalty and the elite of London. But now his mind was full of despair and hopelessness about the future, for the applause was gone. Others were now in the spotlight and envy began to possess him. Added to that, a cerebral hemorrhage paralyzed his right side. He could no longer write, and doctors gave little hope for recovery. The old composer traveled to France and began to soak in the baths which were said to have healing effects. The hot mineral baths seemed to help, and his health began to improve. Eventually, he was able to write once more, and his success returned.
But then he faced another reversal. Queen Caroline, who had been his staunch supporter, died. England found itself on hard economic times, and heating large auditoriums for concerts was not permitted. His performances were canceled, and he began to wonder where God was.
Then one night, as he returned from his walk, Charles Jennens was waiting at his home. Jennens explained that he had just finished writing a text for a musical that covered both the Old and New Testaments, and believed that Handel was the man to set it to music. Handel was indifferent as he began to read the words which Jennens had put together. But then his eyes fell on such words as ‘He was despised, rejected of men. . . he looked for someone to have pity on him, but there was no man; neither found he any to comfort him.’ His eyes raced ahead to the words: ‘He trusted in God. . . God did not leave his soul in hell. . . He will give you rest.’ And finally his eyes stopped on the words: ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth.’ He became aware of the presence of God. He was aware in a new and profound way, and as he picked up his pen the Spirit of God was moving, and music seemed to flow through him. He finished the first part in only seven days. The second section was completed in six days.
Many will remember that when the classical work was first performed in London, and the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ was sung by the choir, King George II was so moved that he stood to his feet. To this day, people still rise to their feet as the great chorus is sung in praise to God.
In reflecting on Handel’s Messiah, Joseph E. McCabe wrote: “Never again are we to look at the stars, as we did when we were children, and wonder how far it is to God. A being outside our world would be a spectator, looking on but taking no part in this life, where we try to be brave despite all the bafflement. A God who created, and withdrew, could be mighty, but he could not be love. Who could love a God remote, when suffering is our lot? Our God is closer than our problems, for they are out there to be faced; He is here, beside us, Emmanuel.”