A Thanksgiving Story of Handel's Messiah

A reading for Wednesday, November 19, 2014: Luke 17:11-19.

With Thanksgiving just a week away, many of us are beginning to consider again breaking out our Christmas music for another year of favorites. Surely Handel's Messiah is one of the most beloved. Do you know the story of Messiah?

George Handel was born of wealthy parents in Halle, Germany. His father was a very prominent surgeon and wanted young George to grow up to be a lawyer. However, when music teachers heard the prodigy play the organ at age 11, Handel's father relented and allowed him to pursue a career in music.

He played for many famous people, including King George of England. George Handel believed his career would be best served by moving to England. What he didn't know was of the controversy that had developed over Italian opera music versus other types of opera and sacred music at the time. Handel found it difficult to find work in such an environment and struggled for years to make ends meet even coming to blows on the stage with rivals.

In 1737 at the age of 52, Handel suffered a stroke and was unable to continue as a performer. By 1740 he was completely broke and living off the benefits of others. He was depressed and broken, frustrated that his dreams of music and fame had never been realized.

It was then that he came across a libretto composed by Charles Jennens. It was scriptural and in three parts: 1. the prophecy of the coming messiah, 2. the birth, life and death of Jesus, 3. the final victory over sin and death. Handel decided in that moment to compose a similar work and went to work on his own Messiah. He wrote the whole three part work in the summer of 1741, and when he got to the famous Hallelujah chorus, he said “I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God.”

Perhaps the most famous of all sacred music, offered by choirs and musicians at Christmas and Easter was written out of a season of brokenness and loss. Perhaps it's also appropriate as we consider Thanksgiving too. Handel was giving thanks for God sustaining him in the troubled seasons of his life.

Ten lepers went to Jesus for healing and were all healed by the power of the Lord. But only one came in return "praising God with a loud voice."

Jesus said, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” How many has the faith of George Handel inspired in all these years since Messiah was written...

As for the rest of us, turn it up this season and sing loud. "For unto us a child is born!"



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