Once considered a religious farce, this majestic oratorio has become a traditional act of worship each Christmas.

I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the Great God Himself,” said George Frideric Handel after he wrote the “Hallelujah” chorus.

In fact, the entire oratorio Messiah (“The” was never in the title) is a grand vision of the drama of redemption. In the 241 years since Messiah was written, untold millions throughout the world have shared something of Handel’s vision and heard one of the greatest sermons on the gospel ever preached. John Wesley wrote in his Journal on August 17, 1758, “I went to the [Bristol] cathedral to hear Mr. Handel’s Messiah. I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance.”

Even today, some respond more readily to the gospel as presented in Messiah than to a pulpit sermon. I especially remember Debbie, a young lady who opened her heart to Christ during a complete performance I was conducting, and subsequently finished formal training for a lifetime of Christian service.

The Popularity And Significance Of Messiah

Messiah unquestionably is the most popular choral work in the English-speaking world. There is a “mystique” about Messiah that seems to set it apart from all other works. Every Christmas and Easter season, it is performed in a variety of circumstances, from community churches to cosmopolitan cathedrals. The highest aspiration of thousands of amateur singers is to sing in a performance of Messiah. For many, it is their only contact with great music, either as performer or as listener. Many who normally shun classical music hasten to embrace this work.

One may ask, “Why should I hear Messiah again if I’ve already heard it, possibly ...

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