Merry Christmas, Y’All

Two days before Christmas Eve, and I’m still fighting the upper respiratory infection that nearly silenced me for our Messiah performance. Oh, I’m better… I’m just not well yet.

I’ll be singing for two servcies at St. Timothy’s on Saturday, Christmas Eve. The music Patricia chooses is always so lovely. Then I hope to be at home at St. Tony’s for a Mass on Christmas Day.

I notice a lot of the same friends come in several times a day to check this little bit of my life, and for that loyalty and constancy, I thank you. I keep thinking I ought to be posting more to justify your visits… perhaps when I get well I’ll be able to do more. In the meantime, please know that during this coming week-end you will be in my thoughts and prayers. I’ll be making a Holy Hour during the week-end and remembering the intentions of my dear friends. That is you.

God bless and keep you as we celebrate the Birth of our Savior this week-end.

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Messiah!

You’re sitting in your seat in a lovely, modern auditorium. The house lights dim, the stage lights go up… the conductor steps onto the podium and lifts his baton… a small orchestra plays a lovely and rousing overture, then after a pause, the strings pick up a gentle introduction,the tenor steps forward and tenderly sings

“Comfort ye — comfort ye, my people.”

It’s almost startling, even after I’ve heard it a dozen or so times. We expect a story about the Messiah to begin with the Incarnation, the Nativity — but instead we’re shown why we need a Redeemer: we are out of step with God, our lives are marked by sin and confusion; we need help, we need… comfort.

But this prophetic beginning also warns us of a coming Judgment. “The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed…” “for He is like a refiner’s fire” “and He shall purify…”

And how shall this work be accomplished? “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…”

Then, after more vocal prophecy about the Coming One, how He will bring light to the Gentiles and Light to the ends of the earth…

there is an interlude, a “pastoral symphony,” which seems musically to mark the passing of generations from the utterance of the promises to their fulfillment.

The voices return with the wonderful narrative of Luke’s Gospel: “There were shepherds abiding in the field….”

How can you not be caught up in the story? The Savior is born! “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion, for behold! thy King cometh unto thee!” And during his lifetime, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd,” so we must “Come unto him, take His yoke upon you and learn of Him –” “For His yoke is easy and His burden is light!”

And by now, after all those weeks of intense labor, the melismas dance over the tongue and the burden of them is light… and somehow all the music is pouring out of my heart even more than from my lips, and this oratorio is an offering of praise and thanksgiving to Christ.

Even after the intermission, when we abruptly turn from joy to sorrow — “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world” — and instead of light and joyous singing we are following Him to the Cross and His passion — we lift our voices to dramatize that Passion — we paint pictures with our voices of the One Who, without blame or iniquity of His own, took on our own and bore it for us. We become the angry mob condemning Him with scorn and derision. We mock, we sneer, we flout… we stand back in awe, for “He did not leave His soul in hell, nor suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.”

We watch as the powers of darkness rail and try to deny the Power of God… in vain of course, for “Hallelujah! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! And He shall reign forever and ever!”

And we look ahead to the coming Judgment, and the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, where we all shall sing — can it possibly be more glorious music in Heaven than this? Can my heart bear it that it is? — “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain… to receive power and wisdom and riches and strength, and honor and glory and blessing… forever and ever — Amen!”

And somehow through this music we are given a glimpse into that Final Day when we all shall be prostrate at His pierced feet, honoring Him for Who He is — seeing Him clearly and without mortal hindrance for the first time for all eternity….

Wouldn’t you know it, two days before our performance of Handel’s Messiah, I started developing an upper respiratory infection? By Sunday, I was whispering and lip-syncing, not singing. Still, I think I would have fought my way out of far worse to stand on that stage at Meymandi Hall with these people who have become my dear friends — many of whom are fellow brothers and sisters in Faith — to worship Our Lord in this glorious music.

“Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever. Amen.”

Messiah Mediations, continued

You’ll enjoy reading these commentary notes on Messiah.

As for myself, I can hardly believe there’s only a dress rehearsal and then the performance this week-end. We’ve been so busy preparing for the Holiday Pops concert with the NC Symphony, and that was a fun performance opportunity throughout Thanksgiving week-end, and only two full rehearsals since then devoted to this cantata, which is our main concert offering for this semester.

Messiah is a wonderful piece of music. We tend to think of it as a Christmas offering, but it was originally performed in 1742 as an Easter cantata. The cantata is divided into three parts: Part One celebrates the Incarnation of the Promised One of Israel, Part Two is devoted to the Passion, and Part Three is a reflection on the nature of our salvation and a looking ahead to the Last Judgment. It could very fittingly be performed at any time of the year, and in fact some of its arias are featured as solos in churches throughout the year: “He Shall Feed His Flock,” “I Know that my Redeemer Liveth.”

It has been a worshipful experience for me to work on this cantata, even at the breakneck speed at which we’ve approached it this semester. Al’s sensitivity to the spiritual content of the work, merged with his musical expertise, have brought out elements of worship and awe unlike any prior performance or recording I’ve ever heard. I’ve mentioned the light-heartedness of the melismas in a number of pieces (you’ve no idea how much HARD WORK it takes to make some music sound and feel light and airy) — lightness of joy and confidence in the Gift of God. And Awe — that’s the overriding theme I’ve encountered these past few months: Awe of the Incarnation, Awe of the immediate presence of God, Awe of His mercy, Awe of Who He Is. Combined, every time we rehearse this cantata, it is an experience almost of being placed in front of a peep-hole into Heaven.

A most interesting contrast!

I just got this from my buddy Bill — don’t know whether it’s authentic, but I’ve never heard kicking and screaming from the folks up north… so I’ll assume it’s true in spirit if nothing else (and I hope the mugwumps down in Louisiana are paying attention):

(For those of you who are not aware, North Dakota and southwestern Montana got hit with their first blizzard of the season a couple of weeks ago)

This text is from county emergency manager out in the western part of North Dakota state after the storm.

Amusing…

WEATHER BULLETIN

Up here in the Northern Plains we just recovered from a Historic event — may I even say a “Weather Event” of “Biblical Proportions” — with a historic blizzard of up to 24″ inches of snow and winds to 50 MPH that broke trees in half, stranded hundreds of motorists in lethal snow banks, closed all roads, isolated scores of communities and cut power to 10’s of thousands.

George Bush did not come….
FEMA staged nothing….
No one howled for the government…
No one even uttered an expletive on TV…
Nobody demanded $2,000 debit cards…..
No one asked for a FEMA Trailer House….
No news anchors moved in.

We just melted snow for water, sent out caravans to pluck people out of snow engulfed cars, fired up wood stoves, broke out coal oil lanterns or Aladdin lamps and put on an extra layer of clothes.

Even though a Category “5” blizzard of this scale has never fallen this early…we know it can happen and how to deal with it ourselves.

Everybody is fine.

It’s so nice to be loved —

even when the love is from a poor little stray cat. The Ghost is still here; I don’t have the heart to take him to the county animal shelter. He’s under my feet all day long, and on my lap when I sit down. Last night friends stopped by, and he was even friendly toward them! I’m putting the word out around town, maybe someone will want to adopt him and he won’t have to go to any of our shelters, even the no-kill ones.