Using Handel’s Messiah for Advent

Suddenly, Advent is here, nipping at the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday. In my home we try to get our tree up and house decorated sometime during the first week of Advent so that we can enjoy our daily readings in the right setting. Over the years I have tried all sorts of ideas for Advent: elaborate calendars, cute nativity projects, Jesse trees, syncing our devotions to with our church sermons, prophetic readings, crafts, wreaths and candles, etc. Many of which have given our family valued memories to share.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a simple and effective Advent devotional model: Handel’s Messiah! The liner notes of the oratorio are ready made for Advent themes. An added benefit is that Messiah doesn’t end with the birth of Christ but it carries us all the way from prophetic Comfort Ye to the glorious final Worthy is the Lamb.

By listening to Messiah in its entirety every single Advent season in small doses the children and I have come to know and love the piece. Each year we can sing along to more and more sections.

I keep it very simple. Each morning I read a couple of sections of the Libretto. If the musical sections are small, I read more. This morning, to begin our readings, I read Isaiah 40:1-5 which corresponded to the first symphony, the Comfort Ye Recitative, the tenor Every Valley followed by the chorus And the Glory. Most sections are a recitative followed by a chorus making starting and stopping points easy to choose. Or you can choose selections based on time factors. We usually do only one section if it is a longer one such as the He Was Despised air. At the end of the holiday season it is nice to listen to the recording in its entirety to wrap it all up.

My recording:
Handel – Messiah / Ameling · A. Reynolds · Langridge · Howell · Marriner is divided into 39 parts. This allows me to easily make up for days when we miss our Advent devotions. I wish I could say we never miss but the holidays can be hectic. Even accounting for some travel it is not hard to fit in the entire Messiah over the course of Advent. Schools and classrooms may even have time during the holidays to participate in this exercise.

We have done this now for almost 10 years and I am happy to report that the children have not tired of it nor has it become a drudge for me. When all other Advent plans get squeezed out by the hustle and bustle, it is still very easy for us to sit down for a few minutes each morning or evening and read the verses and listen to a section.

I think this illustrates the true greatness of Handel’s work. The Libretto is everything you could ask for in a Christmas devotional and the music is glorious. John Mason Hodges tells us that Messiah is one of the pieces of music every educated person should recognize and, may I add, love. The best way to fall in love with it is to listen to it over and over again until you know it well and then you will love it.

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