In December, I had the privilege of preparing the Glacier Chorale for their annual performance of Handel's Messiah. It was a bit hectic, because we only had three rehearsals to put together the vast majority of the choruses, but the potential insanity of the situation was relieved by the fact that most of the singers were quite familiar with the work already. As I worked with the choir over those three rehearsals and as I sat for three nights in a row listening to the live performances, each with different audiences, I was struck by the incongruity of the reality.
I can't say for certain in terms of exact numbers, but I would venture to guess that while many of the singers in this particular choir would call themselves Christians, there are surely some who would not; there may even be an avowed atheist or two in the ranks. Knowing this, how strange it was to hear their voices lifted in singing "Glory to God," "Hallelujah," and "Worthy is the Lamb." How much more so, night after night, to see people drawn to their feet at the first notes of "Hallelujah," and to see them, by the hundreds, singing along with the reprise of "Hallelujah" at the end of the performance. How can so many people, some of whom surely and consciously reject God and His truth, sing His praise openly and publicly?
To be sure, Handel's Messiah is great music, and it is great with or without the words. It is a cultural icon of Western music, and it is as familiar and rousing to the masses as any "classical" music there is. Still, the words do not sing of nature or of love. The music was not written to carry words of praise to any earthly monarch, and no other music I am aware of so universally finds its way into the voices of those who would never otherwise dare to utter its words.
I don't want to make too much of this. After all, the music is not magic. The rejectors of Christ who love this great work called Messiah, and who even take to singing its tunes themselves, do not do so out of a motivation to praise the God they despise, and I do not want to pretend otherwise. But still... the song is sung, and in that moment, the praise of God is on the tongues of those who would not dare to praise Him consciously. They praise him with their voices, if even against their wills. Incongruous perhaps, but I should not call it strange.
God has promised that every knee should one day bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD. I have often wondered how that would come about, and why those who hate Christ would ever confess his lordship, short of being forced against their wills. Perhaps Handel's great work of art offers a glimpse of an answer to that question. In the direct presence of truth, not even its greatest enemy can deny it. Handel's Messiah makes that truth present and beautiful for many who attempt to live their lives without it. In this beautiful presence, many knees have bent and many tongues confessed the truth. When Christ comes again in glory, even Handel's Messiah will pale in comparison to the presence and beauty of the truth that all will see. How much more should we then expect every knee to bend? How much more every tongue confess? As this earth will pale in comparison to the new, so shall even our finest songs to the voices of Heaven; as many knees and tongues respond to our finest music now, then will not one be left unchanged.
Thanks be to God.