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Meaning of the Messiah

posted 7 Nov 2018, 07:51 by Stephen Childs
November is Messiah month in Mayo, with performances taking place at Knock on Nov 3 and in Castlebar on Nov 25. There are strong Irish connections with Handel's Messiah - the first performance took place in Dublin in 1742. Many of us have attended performances over the years, especially in the run-up to Christmas and Easter. The work includes 53 pieces, including big choir numbers such as the "Hallelujah Chorus" and beautiful solos like "I know that my Redeemer liveth". It's easy to sit back and let the beautiful music wash over you. But let's take a minute and ask what does it all mean?

Handel's Messiah is an "oratorio", i.e. a large-scale musical piece featuring choir, solo singers, and orchestra. Oratorios typically have religious or historical themes. In the case of the Messiah, the subject matter is the Bible, with the lyrics being taken from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. But the Messiah isn't just a jumble of unconnected texts - it tells a story from beginning to end.

The story it tells is of "the Messiah" - this is Hebrew for the "Anointed one". "The Messiah" focusses on Jesus Christ, starting with prophecies made 700 years before his birth, and ending in the distant future as Jesus returns to the earth. One of the first pieces is "Behold, a virgin shall conceive", a solo for alto voice. It features words written by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Jesus' birth, when he predicted that a virgin would give birth - as extraordinary then as now. This moves into "O Thou who tellest", which speaks of the "good tidings (news)" that was coming for Zion (Jerusalem). The good news was that one day a saviour would come!

It is amazing that the birth of Jesus was accurately predicted 700 years in advance - throughout the generations many have seen this as proof that he was no ordinary baby, but the Son of God. What about you?

You can read the parts of the bible referred to here: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 40; Isaiah 60.

Handel's Messiah