13.2 SDG: For Unto Us A Child Is Born.


The “Second Week”: Week Thirteen/Session Two.

Theme: The Childhood of Jesus.

Our reading for today: Isaiah 9: 1-7.

For a child has been born—for us! The gift of a son—for us! He’ll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness. His ruling authority will grow, and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness He brings. He’ll rule from the historic David throne over that promised Kingdom. He’ll put that Kingdom on a firm footing and keep it going with fair dealing and right living, beginning now and lasting always. The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies will do all this. (Isaiah 9: 6-7 MsgB)

Ignatius suggests that we ponder on the names of Christ as found in the prophet Isaiah’s text. Today, as I contemplate these ancient words…a familiar tune begins to rise in my spirit.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

George Frederic Handel, the German-born composer of classical music, scrawled the letters ‘SDG’ at the end of his manuscript, his most famous work, Messiah: An Oratorio. SDG stands for the Latin words Soli Deo Gloria, which translates into English as “To God Alone the Glory.” Many claim that Handel’s masterpiece, The Messiah, was conceived under the unction of Holy Providence and after looking a bit closer at the history of the writing and first performances of this classic Christmas work, I tend to agree.

The amazing story of Messiah actually begins with a wealthy Englishman named Charles Jennens. Jennens was born around 1700 and had submitted other wordbooks to his close friend, Handel, before forwarding his Messiah text in the summer of 1741. Jennens had been a strong financial supporter of Handel since 1725 and in a letter to another friend of his, dated July 10th, 1741, Jennens mentions his latest libretto (text) that he had written using text from his King James Bible and from The Book of Common Prayer. Jennens wrote: “I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other subject. The Subject is Messiah”. A devout Anglican and believer in scriptural authority, Jennens’ intention in writing his Messiah text was to challenge advocates of Deism, a belief system that rejects the idea of divine intervention in human affairs. One doubting musicologist, who once called Jennens “a conceited figure of no special ability”, later described Jennens’ text as “a meditation of our Lord as Messiah in Christian thought and belief” and that his finished wordbook “amounts to little short of a work of genius”.

The amazing Messiah story continues. Handel received Jennens text in late July of 1741. He began working on his musical composition for the libretto on August 22nd and by September 14th, Handel had written 259 pages of some of the most memorable music now known to mankind. 24 days. One amazing oratorio. Handel later wrote that “he saw all heaven before him” as he was writing the Hallelujah Chorus section of his masterpiece!

But the story doesn’t end there. When the composition was first performed in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1741, the audience was aghast. Here’s the report as recorded by music historians.

In early March (1742) Handel began discussions with the appropriate committees for a charity concert, to be given in April, at which he intended to present Messiah. He sought and was given permission from St Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals to use their choirs for this occasion. The three charities that were to benefit were prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. In its report on a public rehearsal, the Dublin News-Letter described the oratorio as “far surpassing anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom”. Seven hundred people attended the premiere on 13 April. So that the largest possible audience could be admitted to the concert, gentlemen were requested to remove their swords, and ladies were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The performance earned unanimous praise from the assembled press: “Words are wanting to express the exquisite delight it afforded to the admiring and crowded Audience”. A Dublin clergyman, Rev. Delaney, was so overcome by Susanna Cibber’s rendering of “He was despised” that reportedly he leapt to his feet and cried: “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!” The takings amounted to around £400, providing about £127 to each of the three nominated charities and securing the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

Legend has it that when Handel’s work was later performed in London, the Hallelujah Chorus section was so moving that King George II stood. And in England, when the King stands, everyone stands. Thus the tradition that continues to today. Even in secular audiences, it’s customary for the audience to stand when the maestro drops the baton on Handel’s glorious Hallelujah Chorus.

My prayer: The kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ. And He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah! For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: Where are the Charles Jennens and George Frederic Handel’s of today? If every generation is called to create masterpieces for the glory of God, where are the men and women of today who will choose to carve the initials SDG (Soli Deo Gloria) on their work?

So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?

Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!

To go onto the next journal entry…click here.

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