Hallelujah Chorus – George Frederic Handel (1741, Messiah)

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There are going to be classical music experts who loathe my feeble attempt to honor this great masterpiece, but I will have to live with that.  I simply cannot honestly do a devotional blog about truth in tunes without delving into the classics.  And I certainly cannot spend an entire month on Christmas songs and leave out the greatest musical composition of all time about Christ’s birth .  Ever.  Period.  Not even close to anything else.

This song (and the whole three hour oratorio) is the clearest example of what music can do to vivify truth.  So when one of the most gifted men in all of history was inspirationally graced with this particular piece concerning salvation history’s greatest moment (aside from the cross) all of humanity was blessed for centuries to come with something that transcends age, musical style, and any other boundary you might think of.

George Frederic Handel, we are told, completed the original score of the “Messiah” in less than a month!  24 days to be exact (which is superhumanly fast, if you know anything about it).  His servants said of him that when he was composing during those 24 days, Handel was either praying, weeping, or he was staring into eternity. At the end of his manuscript Handel wrote the letters “SDG”—Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory”.  Handel, himself, was not a remarkable Christian person; but God chose him as a vessel – almost as if God wrote this music Himself (if so, imagine what Heaven will be like!).

The popularity of the “Messiah” grew immensely over the years.  When the King of England first heard it performed, he was so moved by it, that he stood at the Hallelujah chorus.  This traditional ovation carried on throughout the entire opera house and on into every formal performance of this great work performed ever since then.  Here are the lyrics:

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
For the lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
The kingdom of this world;
is become
the kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ
And He shall reign forever and ever
King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
and lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
And he shall reign
And he shall reign forever and ever
King of kings and lord of lords
Forever and ever and ever and ever
Hallelujah

Of course, I left out most of the repetitions, just so that you can see the plain text, which comes directly from Revelation 11:15 and 19:16.  These two passages reflect the angelic and triumphant declaration of who our Lord was, is and will be when He returns – Lord over all.

What I like best about this song is that for a few minutes we get to let go of our embellishing of the humble mode of Christ’s first arrival to earth as a baby; only to embrace the glorious, unbridled magnificence of the fact that GOD was/is that child!  The Lord and Ruler of everything came to us and His sovereignty and place among us has always been first and prime – even though He humbled Himself as a man.  He did it all!  He became like us, to know us and feel like us, so that He could live sinless for us and die for us, BUT He is still and always will be GOD!  This song also reminds me of Philippians 2:5-11.

I get excited, because the song stirs up these truths within me in ways that only it can.  I pray that all of us find a moment this Christmas to see the Incarnation of Christ through the lens of Handel’s art.  And when we feel it in our marrow, may we all stand together and cry out to the heavens, “Hallelujah!”

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Let All Mortal Flesh Keep SIlence – Red Mountain Music (2008, Silent Night)

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This is my second dip into the well that is Red Mountain Music, first time during this Christmas season.  If I end up doing this form of a blog for a long enough time, I will probably use every song that Red Mountain has ever made…they are that good.

However, this song is not just another Christmas song and I would guess that many of you have never heard of it before.  In my humble opinion, it is the complete package of what a Christmas song should be: rich content, intimate cadence, and majestic focus.  And this is the best version of the ancient hymn by far.

True to it’s stated purpose, Red Mountain has resurrected a forgotten classic with vibrant, new sounds.  “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” is very old, originating from an offertory hymn/chant in the 4th century AD of the Divine Liturgy of St. James.  It was later translated from Greek and put to melody during medieval times.  The title is taken from Habakkuk 2:20, but here is the verse in context, starting from verse 18:

“What good is an idol carved by man, or a cast image that deceives you?
How foolish to trust in your own creation—a god that can’t even talk!
What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols, ‘Wake up and save us!’
To speechless stone images you say, ‘Rise up and teach us!’
Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver, but they are lifeless inside.
But the Lord is in His holy Temple.  Let all the earth be silent before Him.”

The Bible is full of talk like this where the author mocks the ridiculousness of worshiping inanimate objects.  But in this text, the smack talk is backed by a reference to God’s answer to empty idol worship.  For the people of Israel, God met with them through His very presence within the holy temple.  A supernatural answer to “rival” idolatries.  But salvation history was utterly defined by what God did in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago.

Let our song selection describe the historical union between deity and mortal flesh:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

I honestly cannot think of a better way to call attention to the incarnation of Christ than with these lyrics.  Note, specifically, how the last verse recalls the ark of the covenant and the sculpted cherubim that “guarded” the holy of holies – where God’s presence would reside, visited by the Jewish high priest once a year.  What is great about this picture is realizing how drastically different it is from seeing God lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes – accessible to human parents, animals, shepherds and other bystanders.  From extreme limitation to awesome incarnation!

When you consider how big of a deal it is that God…supreme Being in all the universe…God came down to earth as a babe, it is unfathomable to comprehend.  The only and best response is twofold: be silent and then say, “Alleluia!”

Perhaps, this Christmas season is getting a little hairy for you.  That is understandable.  My challenge to you and to myself is simply this: take ten minutes in silence, just one time over the next couple of weeks, find ten minutes to be still and meditate upon the unbelievable reality that God came to us as flesh and blood.  Then, when those ten minutes are over, simply whisper in adoration to Him, “Alleluia…Praise Yahweh!”