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CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT: These days, we look despairingly for messiahs

By John Dempster

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D James Ross conducting the famous Hallelujah Chorus.
D James Ross conducting the famous Hallelujah Chorus.

Beside item 24, the Hallelujah Chorus, the programme stated: “The audience may wish to stand”. And it seemed that everyone who was able rose to their feet as choir and orchestra let it rip.

I was at the recent ‘Messiah for all’ performance of George Frederick Handel’s famous work in Inverness Cathedral by a 200-strong choir, local soloists, and an orchestra under the direction of D James Ross. What we saw had been pulled together from scratch in a day-long intensive rehearsal.

We’re familiar with the term ‘white messiah’, used critically to describe someone helicoptered into an international crisis zone to make a gesture of help, pose for photographers, then return home.

But the word messiah originally described a God-promised, God-given liberator, longed for by the Jewish people, who would restore their fortunes and make all things well.

These days, we look despairingly for messiahs, as the world struggles with political and economic challenges, and our very existence is threatened by nuclear weapons and climate change. Who will break the hold of the unjust powers and systems which oppress us? Who will set our hearts free and wipe away our tears and inspire courage and action, and heal our conflicted world?

The whole of Handel’s Messiah, its words entirely drawn from the Bible rejoices in the Christian belief that Messiah has come. Jesus, rescuer, saviour, not helicoptered in from heaven for a brief photo-shoot, but engaged with us, dying for the human race, and now forever alive.

This messiah brings light and hope to the world now, and glimpses of the future we long for when Messiah will return, and all will be well, forever well.

The recent performance of Handel’s Messiah at Inverness Cathedral.
The recent performance of Handel’s Messiah at Inverness Cathedral.

‘Messiah for all’, the concert was billed. Everyone could sign up to join the choir. And we believe Jesus, the Messiah is for all. No-one is forgotten, no-one excluded, no-one too insignificant, too broken, too damaged, too guilty. All are welcome.

From where we were sitting during the performance, I could hear the clarinet player’s individual, breathy notes, the silver singing of the strings, the decisive beat of the timpani, the voices of the choir, blended together, all singing one song.

As followers of Jesus, we are Messiah’s people, seeking together to bring change and light and liberation in the world, acting not like little messiahs, which we are most definitely not, but as agents of the true Messiah, following the beat of his steady direction.

Why did I stand for the Hallelujah Chorus? Because it’s an old tradition? Because everyone else is doing it? Because people expect me to? Or because I want to say ‘Thank you!’ to God for Jesus the Messiah? For ‘Hallelujah’ simply means ‘Praise the Lord!’

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