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Handel’s Messiah – Special This Year

Posted on Monday, December 18, 2023
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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16 Comments
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Nativity scene symbol. Jesus is reason for season. Salvation, Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us, hope.

The other day, following a long custom, I attended Handel’s “Messiah” in Washington DC.  Once a year I find a seat and listen.  Quietly, I wondered how it might affect me this year, given the state of the world, disrepair here, dissolution there, distress, dismay, and disarray nearly everywhere.

Slightly early, I took in the twinkling wreaths and trees, listened as the orchestra prepared, and watched the robed Chorus – that magnificent Messiah chorus – assemble.

But the normal banter, giddy pre-Christmas cheer seemed, unless it was my imagination, lighter, more distant, not as full and present. Unease, ambient doubt, seemed to weigh on those who trickled in, each looking for something, hoping they might find it here.

Beside me sat a young man, in dreadlocks and a winter hat. Around him, his sisters and mother. Before me, unsteady but cleareyed was an old Chinese couple in masks, subdued yet expectant.

This was the pre-concert moment, like pre-light dawn, when the mind wanders. Is there comfort to be found deep in empty pockets – if we will only keep reaching? Sweet fragrances, revelations in wait, for those who pause to breathe deeply, remember shadows cannot exist without light.

As the violins warmed up, my mind drifted to the Middle East, so unsettled. Not long after the invasion of Iraq, I found myself in a corkscrew into Baghdad, down and fencing fears on the IED-ridden “airport road,” finally within the green zone.

The green zone is not green. Like Israel and Gaza today, the landscape was battered, barren, ravaged by war, buildings punched in and smashed by artillery, the young trees shattered, inverted paint brushes.

But in the oddest, most surreal moment there, I stumbled on several beautiful, untouched, blooming, and fragrant orange trees, seemingly undeterred by the war, flowering.

To say the moment touched me is insufficient. These flowering trees, indifferent or resolved to persist despite shattered surroundings, a veritable moonscape, made me stop – and wonder about hope. Standing near, the fragrance of orange blossoms filled the air, for a moment changing everything.

When we least expect it, God gives us the sign, an indication all is not lost, never is. He is there. As the lights dimmed, I wondered if my neighbors shared thoughts of this kind, if they too had come for hope.

Then Handel’s Messiah, biblical wisdom, and otherworldly music began.  The first words, sung by the Tenor: “Comfort ye my people, saith your God … Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.”

The neighbor to my left focused, allowing his eyes to close, to see what the music conveyed, not the twinkling of Christmas wreaths nor robed Chorus, but the picture painted of specific hopes, necessarily different for each who hears the music but also clear and somehow the same.

Chorus: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” Then Bass “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” and, as if to address our doubt in this grieving world, “they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”

In front of me, the older man leaned forward, as if straining to get closer to the music, the way my son used to walk toward a full moon, “just to see it … a little closer.”

Now the Soprano gave her vision, and you could see it. “There were shepherds abiding the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo!  The angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them, and they were sore afraid.”

“And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.’ For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Now the Chorus: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, goodwill towards men.”

Sometimes you have no idea what someone beside you is thinking, what burdens their heart, or where to start. Other times, you can almost feel it, an unspoken wave of something that passes.

As the Messiah unfolded, stanza by stanza, you could feel waves washing over this little pocket of humanity, an assemblage of listeners and believers in a city that so often does both poorly.

Like me, my neighbors were carried on the music, absorbed in what washed over them, triumphant truth, differences immaterial. “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.”

Around me, people mouthed words, Christ “despised and rejected,” then the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Trumpets sounded, and a verse. “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”

After “Amen,” we rose as one, no distance, unease, or doubt, all hearts light. How did it affect me? Not sure, as the Messiah is awesome. But as I left, from somewhere, seemed a scent of orange blossom.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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STEVEN
STEVEN
5 months ago

Amen, Amen, and Amen!!!! Your perfect review of this colossal work has inspired me to immerse myself in it once again in its full glory. Thanks for the reminder.

EMG
EMG
5 months ago

Mr. Charles, thank you for sharing.

Lover of God and America!
Lover of God and America!
5 months ago

BEAUTIFUL FEELING – AS DID THE AUTHOR OF THIS….

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
5 months ago

The words soul and spirit , reverence , all come to mind with this fine article Robert. It has been a few years since I listened to anymore than a minute or so of Handel’s Messiah , so I listened to a few minutes of it before writing this comment ( Royal Choral Society ) .Two other words that stood out were – triumphant truth – the insight and understanding of having a place in this world, having a sense of purpose. The idea of the story that brings so much meaning to so many people – feelings that encourage what is good and noble, feeling of joy and genuine appreciation for the guidance found in thinking about the birth of Christ . The Holy Family , Mary, Joseph ,Jesus Christ ,the triumphant truth – something of great wisdom, great importance. Well done with this article Robert – it should bring good ,positive, optimistic feelings and thoughts to many people.

Elizabeth Ross
Elizabeth Ross
5 months ago

My sister and I attended the sing along MESSIAH at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts 1992-1995. I am extremely afraid of heights, and only agreed to sit in the very highest balcony when I read about the sign singer in the program. Each time the Bass sang, “The Trumpet Shall Sound and THE DEAD SHALL BE RAISED INCORRUPTIBLE+ the signer added, “LIKE JESUS!!!”

TERRY
TERRY
5 months ago

We must hold tight to what Christ has given us. It will not, and shall not be taken away. Father God continue to give us ways to share your light and love. You alone Jesus brought peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Thank you for this article, truth

Will
Will
5 months ago

This helps us get our focus where it should be. Thank you Jesus for redemption.

Len
Len
5 months ago

Good one! Much appreciated!

Bruce Curran
Bruce Curran
5 months ago

Amen! and Praise God for his blessings in many disguises! have a truly blessed Christmas, Bobby.

Kristine
Kristine
5 months ago

Beautiful article.

GTPatriot
GTPatriot
5 months ago

amen to that. May we all experience this feeling. It is needed now, at least by me, more than ever before in my life.

Robert
Robert
5 months ago

Valetinu Radu directs an excellent production that they sell for low cost . VOX Amadeus… I have bought many to give out… … “he(Jesus) shall purify…..”

Colorblind Justice
Colorblind Justice
5 months ago

Robert Charles, thank you!! Once again the sweet Holy Spirit unified the least likely of us mortals through Handel’s classical masterpiece. God is Love, and agape’ is the closest form of godliness. Merry Christmas!

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