This past weekend I was blessed to attend a Handel's Messiah performance by the Handel and Haydn Society at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was conducted by Harry Christophers, and featured some incredible soloists, such as the countertenor Daniel Taylor.
To say that I was moved by the experience would certainly be an understatement. The swells of sound, the staccato of the violins, the voices pure and clear, the electric conducting of Mr. Christophers...sent chills down my spine, brought me to tears, and moved me to want to stand up and shout: "AMEN!!!" many times. The three-hour piece is pure inspiration from Baroque composer George Frideric Handel. Handel selected many biblical passages (particularly from Isaiah and Corinthians) and put them to soaring music in a theological narrative that begins with anticipation of the birth of Christ, rejoices in the incarnation, laments the sorrows and suffering of an embodied existence, and then finally celebrates the ultimate triumph over death through the promise of the resurrection. It is a powerful, powerful piece of music, and one I have long loved.
Something about the amazing energy of this particular performance of the Messiah really resonated deeply within me, and played a theological chord in my heart in a way that only soul-stirring music can. What I found myself feeling, in my bones and flesh and tears, was the sheer improbability and pathos of the incarnation, which I explore in three phrases from the Messiah that particularly stayed with me.
For unto us, a child is born... (Isaiah 9:6)
What struck me this time when I heard this oft-repeated refrain was the "us." For unto us a child is born. We are all waiting, like Mary, as eager parents, ready to receive this new life in the world. But we aren't just waiting for something we hope will happen. We are waiting for something that is inevitable and already-done. God is already with us. God is coming to us. God will come again to us.
The kingdom of the earth is become the kingdom of our Lord (Revelation 11:15)
In the famous Hallelujah Chorus, this line is particularly memorable. The potential for transforming the suffering in this world is so rich, because through the incarnation, the sacred and the profane are brought together, the kingdom of earth becomes the kingdom of God. We have the potential to bring about divine love and justice in this broken place, because God came in a broken body to bring good news to us. This world that we live in is sacred, already blessed, and yet aching for healing through the further flowering of God's love made flesh.
And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
In God's decision to come as a human being to this world we are all redeemed and blessed in our own bodies ("...and the Word was made flesh.") Our bodies are no less human (worms will still destroy our dead flesh buried in the dark earth), and yet in their very human-ness they are capable of seeing God. This means that each movement of our limbs, each neuron firing in our brains, each breath...has the capacity to be a prayer. When we move we move in God, when we breathe we breathe in God. This incarnation has already happened. We have been granted this amazing gift and we await its coming again, within ourselves. We are already blessed. We await Christ's coming as a human child Advent after Advent, day after day, breath after breath.