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Summary: The coming King takes away our punishment and brings us peace.

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Advent with Handel’s Messiah First Sunday November 30, 2008

Isaiah 40:1-5

Last Christmas, Linda Ruth gave me a book from The Voice Project called “The Voice from on High.” It is a translation and exploration of scripture from Handel’s Messiah. It’s inspired me to look at a selection of scripture from the Messiah as our Advent series this year.

Two years ago we bought tickets to the Messiah for Pam’s parents as Christmas gifts. I ended up taking them. Pam’s mom was so grateful that this old rock-and- roller would sit through hours of opera music to take them. Don’t tell her, but I loved every minute of it – portions moved me deeply, even to the point of tears. Pam’s dad, on the other hand, slept through a great portion!

I’ve put an insert in the bulletin that details places you can experience Messiah in Toronto this season.

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 puplic 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."

Although the first part of Messiah specks of the Birth of Jesus, it was originally performed at lent and Easter.

The Oratorio begins with Isaiah 40 it takes the first three “songs” with lyrics:

Isaiah 40

Comfort for God’s People

1 Comfort, comfort my people,

says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and proclaim to her

that her hard service has been completed,

that her sin has been paid for,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

3 A voice of one calling:

"In the wilderness prepare

the way for the LORD;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,

and all people will see it together.

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

In Isaiah 40:1-2 Isaiah stops prophesying to his own time, and begins to prophesy to the next generations. He is standing in the court of the Judean palace in Jerusalem, everything looks fine and he is not prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of her people. He is prophesying the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the city! He is saying “comfort” to people who were feeling pretty comfortable – they don’t need it now, but they will. It may speak to us as we wait for the economic Tsunami that we know is coming, but we haven’t actually felt yet.

Isaiah 40

1 Comfort, comfort my people,

says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and proclaim to her

that her hard service has been completed,

that her sin has been paid for,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

100 years after it was penned, the Jewish people in exile must have leaned heavily on Isaiah 40.

500 years after it was penned, in Jesus’ day the people still leaned heavily on it – the Babylonian exile had ended, but only in that the people had returned – The nation had never regained the strength it had at it’s height, and the presence of God was never seen as it was in Moses’ or David’s day. Now the Romans had come and they felt like they were exiled in their own country.

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