He had been raised in security and love. He had developed his gifts and tasted success. But he found himself increasingly isolated and struggling with despair. The year was 1741. His name was George Handel.
Then Charles Jennens handed him a selection of scripture passages and invited him to set them to music. Handel received the hand-written pages, and those words of scripture took hold of him. It is said that he didn’t leave the house in which he was staying for 24 days, barely taking the time to even eat, as he composed the accompanying, incredible music.
Messiah begins with the words ‘Comfort, comfort my people’. They were the words of the Lord for a people who were overwhelmed by despair. They had wandered from good and God. They were in exile, far from their homeland and culture. They had been humiliated. They felt alone and abandoned. And to them came their God with words of embrace and comfort, born of promise … ‘the glory of the Lord shall be revealed’ (40:1-5).
As we gather and hear these words this Sunday, we mark the beginning of the season of Advent and the journey to Christmas. But there is more. We celebrate the revelation of the Lord in that babe of Bethlehem, and that man of cross and empty tomb, all for us and our salvation. But upon that historical foundation we celebrate a present experience – the promise of God that new beginnings are possible for us even now, by the grace of God.
It is a promise that creates its own reality, as testified by Handel. As he felt despair lifted from him and life renewed within him, he composed over two hundred and fifty pages of music that he concluded with the letters ‘SDG’. Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory.
And so with anticipation we light the first candle around the wreath, the one known as ‘hope’ …
If you are able to join us in the worship of God this Sunday, you would be welcome! (And have a look at the beautiful prayer of the Iona Community of Scotland, included in the Order of Worship below – ‘Thank you God for the waiting time, the looking time, the loving time, the keeping time’)