For Unto Us A Child is Born, Messages Inspired by Handel’s Messiah
Message 2 of 4: Rejoice Greatly
Scripture: Luke 2:8-20
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 12/22/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of the entire worship service, including the message.
SONGS FROM HANDEL’S MESSIAH:
There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Field and Glory to God
Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion
At the end of the first part of Handel’s Messiah, the text shifts from mostly quoting the prophet Isaiah to the more familiar Christmas story found in the New Testament.
So what text is chosen first?
- Caesar Augustus calling for a census?
- Mary and Joseph, the human heroes of the story?
- Herod, the villain of the story?
Nope. Charles Jennens, who compiled the scriptures which make up Handel’s Messiah, chose the story of the shepherds.
Who from the Christmas story most inspires you? Why? I usually choose Mary, the first and best disciple, and I usually gloss over the shepherds. I thought of them as side characters. I often don’t even read their whole story. I stop with the angels singing to them.
But this year, they’ve captured my heart thanks to Handel’s Messiah.
In Messiah, a solo soprano acts as the narrator and angel of the Lord for this part of the scripture…
Luke 2:8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
A choir acts as the heavenly for this part of the text
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
The choir is followed by a solo soprano doing vocal gymnastics in an incredibly difficult and exuberant version of Zechariah 9:9-10. Is the soloist the prophet rejoicing that the Old Testament promises are in the birth of Christ? Or maybe it’s a shepherd or angel overcome with excitement.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen. Rejoice greatly.
How will you receive the coming of Christ? Will you receive Jesus with great joy?
How is your Christmas season going? I’ve never been so absent. I had the chance for some vacation with husband. Pastors never take a vacation in December, but this year it was the only time we had between Ed’s jobs. I got back from vacation and then got sick. Multiple days in bed. How about you?
How are you receiving what is meant as “Good News with Great Joy”?
Receive with Fear– The angel says, “Do not be afraid” (aka I’m not going to hurt you) because their appearances are so surprising, startling, unexpected. That’s how many experience this season, fear-full because the feelings and triggers are surprising, startling, and unexpected. Everything feels out of control.
Receive as an interruption, and intrusion- I’ve got to watch the sheep. Let me get back to work. Bah humbug. It’s all a bother.
Receive as a chore/burden– Now there’s even more on my to-do list. I’ve got to find someone to watch the sheep. Then I have to walk all the way into Bethlehem in the dark. Then I have to search for a baby in a food trough.
Are you open to receiving the Good News of Christmas with Great Joy? Not great happiness. Not great success.
The angels do. They are lighting up the night sky with their celebration, flooding it with singing and worship and the promises of God.
Mary does. Her celebration is quieter. She treasures it, ponders all in her heart. You could have both public celebrations and private wonder.
The shepherds do. I imagine them as big balls of enthusiasm. Like frat boys- rough and tumble, out in the middle of the night doing their thing in the dark, caring for the sheep. The angels come and they say, “Yea, let’s go!”
Enthusiasm- en theos, God with and God within, full of the Spirit
ENTHUSIASTIC, JOYFUL CELEBRATING
Dancing on the cruise ship – They danced all day long. Line dancing, cha cha lessons, Zumba, dancing before and after dinner. We’re the people of God, why aren’t we dancing?
Lisa, did you dance? No, I watched from the balcony and smiled. I don’t do that. I don’t know-how. I don’t want to make a fool of myself. I missed out worrying about what other people think. Be a fool for Christ and rejoice.
Choir singing outside of Publix- Christians in the wild singing the Good News. People are singing along and smiling. There’s a joy and eternal quality to the sacred songs which is different than the secular songs.
The bright, sparkly Christmas headband my mom and sister made me for Christmas. What would it be like to wear it every day between now and New Year’s?
I’m going to do it. I’m going to let my little light shine. I’m not going to be embarrassed my Savior is born and born again in me. I’m tired of being an incognito Christian. In camouflage, in hiding. This is our season. This is our story. It’s time to dance and sing, celebrate and rejoice. We have no reason to be ashamed of celebrating our Lord.
MORE ABOUT SHEPHERDS
One idea is that they were special shepherds who raised the sheep to be sacrificed in the temple, which was only about 4 miles away. They had a special cave they used for birthing sheep. A spotless male lamb would be quickly wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger till it calmed down and could be with its mother.
If this is true, when they heard the angel describe Jesus’ birth they knew exactly where to find Mary and Joseph, in the birthing cave. They knew exactly who Jesus was- the Lamb of God. The way Jesus was wrapped foreshadows his burial clothes for he would be the sacrifice to save us all.
This is beautiful and theologically rich. But what if they were just regular ordinary shepherds going about their regular ordinary tasks? Shepherds who are lowly, uneducated, migrant workers, dirty jobs kind of people, not the most trustworthy. What if this is who God chooses. It sounds just like God.
Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
The shepherds are full of enthusiasm. They don’t overthink it. They don’t over plan it. They are fully present to God and the Good News.
17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds are the first to hear the Good News. The first to see the long-awaited, long-promised Messiah. The first to affirm Mary and Joseph who were probably feeling and thinking so many things.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The shepherds are the first to hear the Good News.
The first to see the Messiah.
The first to affirm Mary and Joseph.
The first to share the Good News.
The first to rejoice- glorifying and praising God.
And so, beloved of God, let the shepherds inspire you to receive and rejoice
Rejoice with an indescribable joy.
A joy greater than words
A great and glorious joy.
Loose. Liberated. Boundless.
Receive and Rejoice!
A joy worthy of new birth, of a living hope
A joy anchored in The Imperishable, The Eternal.
Undefiled and Unfading
Receive and Rejoice!
This joy was chosen for you.
Destined for you.
Sanctified, sprinkled, and saved for you.
By the Merciful One. The One Who is With You.
Receive and Rejoice!
~ Receive and Rejoice, by Lisa Degrenia
Receive and Rejoice © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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