Posted by: Bay Presbyterian Church | January 4, 2018

“O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings”

“O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings”

 Just shy of 2 months ago we observed the 500th anniversary of the opening salvo of what has become known as the Reformation.  Begun by an obscure monk who, at the outset, was pointing out certain irregularities he noted as they related to his own church denomination.  That set off about 150 years of rolling reform throughout the center of the western world.  The church was shaken to its core as a millennium of theological formation and political connectiveness began to unwind.  And at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century a movement began of such consequence that historians have named it.  They call it the Enlightenment—so called because its patriarchs and matriarchs believed that it was on age of setting aside the darkness of God and religion and the dawning of science and Reason.  You can’t see it, but in my notes Reason is spelled with a capital “R.”  That is because for most of the drivers of the Enlightenment, “Reason was their god, and man was the measure of all things.”  That quote was first attributed to a Greek philosopher named Protagoras and it means that the individual human being rather than a god or an unchanging moral law, is the ultimate source of VALUE!

I think “man is the measure…” is a pretty good descriptive phrase for the Enlightenment. 

Why is this important?  Well—if you have been thinking about the dates, you will realize that there were other things going on in the western world while the Enlightenment was spreading.  Over in England John Mason Neale, Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts were breaking out of Cromwellian narrowness as it relates to the worship of the church.  Isaac Watts was publishing his breakout hymnal featuring interpretive lyrics related to Scripture.  At the same time—a composer in England was writing keyboard suites, cantatas and operas.  His name was George Handel and of him Ludwig von Beethoven said he was “the greatest composer that ever lived.”

Handel’s life raged while his continent was aflame with the debate of the ages:  Christian theism or humanistic atheism—that was the great debate of Handel’s age—sound familiar?  Many Enlightenment thinkers—contemporaries of Handel—had backgrounds in the sciences and associated scientific advancement with the overthrow of Christianity and traditional authority in favor of the development of free speech and thought.  This could be our times—but it was the time of George Frederic Handel.

Born in Germany into a Christian home, Handel’s early works were largely operas, but rising costs of operatic talent drove Handel to other areas of endeavor.  He began composing oratorios for the church which enabled volunteers to do the work of the expensive operatic players.

Handel could be—well let’s say—passionate.  He once fought a duel with swords over seating in the orchestra pit.  His opponent thrust what would have been a fatal blow, but his sword was blunted by a metal button on Handel’s coat.

That passion flowed to many areas of his life—he was benevolent to a fault—a portion of his Messiah proceeds went to a debtor’s prison and hospital.  But the passion also served him well in his creative work.  A lyricist, Charles Jennens, who sought to push back against the increasingly hostile secular culture compiled scripture after scripture in the hopes that Handel would like it and arrange music and words in such a fashion to glorify the Genius and Skill of the One who fashioned the heavens and the earth and who shall reign forever and ever.  He scored…big time.  Handel read those scriptures and God inspired him—His passionate response was to write from—literally morning until evening and the Messiah, in its entirety, was completed in only 23 days.

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