Majora Canamus (Let us sing of great things) — Virgil, Eclogue IV
And without Controversy, great is the mystery of Godliness:
God was manifested in the Flesh, justified by the Spirit, seen of Angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.
In whom are hid all the Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge. (1 Timothy 3:16; Colossians 2:3)
These are the words of the preface of the word-book to the first performance of Messiah in 1742.
Whenever I hear or read “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” I can’t help but think of a rag-tag bunch of people packing into a church to sing the Hallelujah Chorus.
I can’t know at all where the audience of the Messiah sing-along was in their faith. But somehow, I think they were praising God without knowing it or meaning to. That may be heretical. Frederick Buechner says it better in Telling the Truth:
“The joy beyond the walls of the world more poignant than grief. Even in church you catch glimpses of it sometimes though church is apt to be the last place because you are looking too hard for it there. It is not apt to be so much in the sermon that you find it or the prayers or the liturgy but often in something quite incidental like the evening the choral society does the Mozart Requiem, and there is your friend Dr. X, who you know thinks the whole business of religion is for the birds, singing the Kyrie like a bird himself--Lord, have mercy, have mercy–as he stands there among the baritones in his wilted shirt and skimpy tux; and his workaday basset-hound face is so alive with if not the God he wouldn’t be dead believing in then at least with his twin brother that for a moment nothing in the whole world matter less than what he believes or doesn’t believe–Kyrie eleison Christe eleison–and as at snow, dreams, certain memories, at fairy tales, the heart leaps, the eyes fill.”
There is a hint of paradise when an entire church, packed to the brim, hot and stale balcony included, rises to its feet and plunges into the “Hallelujah Chorus.” And then with the last “hallelujah” everyone glances around somewhat exultantly and perhaps a bit sheepishly for having sung too shrilly or too loudly, but for a few minutes we were changed. For three or four pages of music “the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.”
I can’t think of a better way to begin Advent.