My brother and I love the Messiah. We sang the Hallelujah Chorus in high school together, our voices beaming out those waves of joy, our faces alive in the light that shines in the midst of the darkness of winter. Later, in February or March, when the snow was melting, I’d find myself humming it as I went along the winding roads towards school. There was something in the music, I said.
So a few years ago, when I realized that the music was beloved by many more than just me and my brother, I bought us tickets. We dressed up, took a train in the freezing cold to Symphony Hall. It was a 3pm performance, that first time, I think, and the first Sunday in Advent. Our seats were student rush seats, nothing special, but somehow the feeling that we were grown ups, going into the city to see something, walking up the cool steps with ladies in fur coats and men in tweed jackets with elbow patches, meant something. We were learning to be us, we were learning to love the us that we were.
And then the music began, and over and over again the words and sounds crashed around our ears, Comfort, comfort ye my people, saith your God. The tenor that first year was beaming, I remember, and though his body was calm, it was as if his voice left his body, to come to each of us, tapping us on the shoulder. Did you hear me? It whispered. I am singing to you, thus saith your God. I have loved choral music ever since I sang Rudolph and Holly Jolly Christmas in my elementary school gym/cafeteria/auditorium/multi-purpose room. I have loved to sing. But then, in that first Sunday, when the waiting had just begun? Then I loved music for the first time.
We went back this year. A new night, a new concert hall, a new choir, a new tenor opening God’s words to us and proclaiming the comfort of God’s people, the coming of the Messiah. A new feeling, sitting in what I think was the same outfit I had worn two years ago, leaning forward in my seat for two hours while I cling to each word like the manna God once sent to the unruly people Israel.
And I heard, again and again, not just that we are comforted, but that line from the Hallelujah chorus I sang all those years ago –
the kingdom of this world, is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ, and of his Christ.
I have been unruly this Advent, anxious for God’s coming but perhaps not for what it will bring to me. Anxious to celebrate, but not to prepare. I have been hungry for the good news but when it begins, as it must begin, in the reminder that we are a people hindered by our sins, in the knowledge of how we have wronged each other and this world, how we have gone astray, how we have fallen apart from God – then I do not want to know the good news. Then I do not want to face the manger, the angels in that field, the Christ child.
But the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ. And of his Christ.
And he shall reign.
However unruly our hearts, however we fear the goodness of the news, the light it shines on us – can there be better music than this? That he shall reign forever and ever.