George Fredrick Handel's father wanted him to attend law school and become a lawyer, but music
captured his heart. He mastered the organ, harpsichord and violin and was a master in writing operas. He gained worldwide fame but then lost it; he fell into depression and coupled with stress he developed a case of palsy with which he lost the use of some of his fingers. Frederick the Great opined at the time that "Handel's great days are over, his inspiration is exhausted."
But then in the summer of 1741 he read the text for an opera composed by Charles Jennens which consisted entirely of Scriptures about the Messiah, Jesus. The three parts of the text covered the prophecies of the coming Messiah; the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus; and the End Times and Jesus' ultimate victory. Handel was captivated by the text and especially inspired by the opening words of Isaiah 40: "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people." On August 22, 1741, he shut the door to his London home and began writing. Twenty-three days later he had finished the Messiah. It is reported that when he was writing the "Hallelujah Chorus," his assistant found him weeping and saying, "I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God." Interestingly enough John Wesley saw an early performance of Handel's Messiah and commented in his Journal, "There were some parts that were affecting, but I doubt it has staying power."
It has stayed and today is one of the most famous and beloved loved pieces of music ever written or performed. It was written for the Easter season, but it has become connected with Christmas, probably in part because of the opening prophecies about Jesus' birth. One of those comes from Isaiah 9:6, which Handle captured in the beautiful piece, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." During Advent this year we will spend time unpacking this wonderful prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-7. And perhaps we will see the face of Jesus in a fresh, joy-filled way!
Read Isaiah 9:1-7 and use the questions below to help you think through this passage in preparation for this Sunday's message. (Notice that the prophet Isaiah uses what is called a prophetic perfect in this passage. That is, he speaks of future events using past tense verbs.)
1. What do you think the prophet is talking about in verses 1 and 2? What is the darkness he speaks about and what is the great light that has shined on these folks? How does this light address the darkness?
2. There are several word pictures describing how the people would respond (v. 3) to what the Lord would do (v. 4). How do you understand these images? What would the Lord do and how would the people respond?
3. What is the promise of verse 5? When will it be fulfilled?
4. Verse 6 is the familiar text made famous by Handel's Messiah. Who is promised here? What will He do and what will people call Him?
5. What do we learn about this promised child in verse 7?
6. The last line in verse 7 is, "The zeal of the Lord will do this." The zeal of the Lord will do what? In other words, what will the Lord do that will deal with the darkness and deep darkness described earlier?
7. How does this promised child in verse 6 accomplish what is pictured in verses 4-5? What think ye?
8. What is your favorite image of Jesus from this passage?
9. What do you think the Lord wants you to take away from this passage?
Happy Thanksgiving, and hope to see you this evening (7:00 PM) or on Sunday!
God be with you,