Handel’s Messiah for Advent

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” — Isaiah 9:2

Handel’s Messiah, credit: The British Library

We often think of Handel’s Messiah as an oratorio for Christmas, but it was in fact written as a commentary on the birth, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ. The libretto was written by Charles Jennens and the music was composed by George Frideric Handel.

The libretto was taken from the King James Version and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The libretto is taken from 81 different Bible verses, most of them from the prophet Isaiah.

This masterpiece has nurtured my Advent meditations for years. We can be a part of God’s redemption of time and space as we relive the expectation of Israel, longing for the Messiah and His Kingdom here on earth. As we rehearse Israel’s wait, we also expectantly wait for Jesus’ second coming when He will come to judge the living and the dead.

Here are the Scriptural citations for the Advent part of Handel’s Messiah if you would like to spend more time in the biblical text while listening to their musical interpretation.

Handel’s Messiah

Scene I: Isaiah’s prophecy of salvation

Overture
Comfort ye my people — Isaiah 40:1–3
Ev’ry valley shall be exalted — Isaiah 40:4
And the glory of the Lord — Isaiah 40:5

Scene II: The coming judgment

Thus saith the Lord of hosts — Haggai 2:6–7; Malachi 3:1
But who may abide the day of His coming — Malachi 3:2
And he shall purify the sons of Levi — Malachi 3:3

Scene III: The prophecy of Christ’s birth

Behold, a virgin shall conceive — Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23
O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion — Isaiah 40:9; 60:1
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth — Isaiah 60:2–3
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light — Isaiah 9:2
For unto us a child is born — Isaiah 9:6

For a greater understanding of Advent, I recommend the following books:

Bobby Gross. Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009.

Fleming Rutledge. Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018.

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