Monday, November 26, 2012

the big parade

Okay, I admit it – I am not waiting for Christmas Eve. I am already listening to Christmas music, and specifically to “Messiah”, the oratorio by George Frideric Handel. Because after the overture the singing starts with some of the very scriptures we are hearing today.

Over the weekend, Eric Hanson was meditating on the meaning of Handel’s “Messiah”, and, being a music professor, on its style of composition. He recognized something: that Handel, who had the habit of opening his operas and oratorios with an overture in the Italian style, here began his oratorio with a French overture. Why French instead?

Because a French overture is meant to accompany the appearance of royalty, the entrance of a king. At the opera house in Paris, the music would be heralding the entrance, in all his pomp and glory, of the Sun King, Louis XIV.

For the London premiere of Messiah, the story goes, a king would be present: the king of England. But of course that is not all – a greater king than George II would be introduced by this music. Indeed, at one point in the performance the king in the theatre stood up – and the audience stood with him – acknowledging the superordinate majesty of the one being proclaimed: Jesus of Nazareth, son of the most high God.

Our gospel reading today begins with a grand-sounding procession, a parade of powerful names: the emperor of Rome, Tiberius, takes first place, followed by his servant on the spot, the man he sent to take over a rough place and straighten it out: procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. And other kings are there, two brothers among them, sons of Herod the Great who rebuilt the Temple. The high priests are there too – ones we will meet again.

It is a procession of grandeur. More than oriental splendor - the power of Rome, the piety of Jerusalem – line up in powerful array. But the whole thing is shown up as a Doctor Seuss procession when an incongruous figure is introduced.

John. There he is. No regal model he. Not by the standards of those or any days. He looks about as pompous as the bag lady that used to sleep in front of the White House gates. Yet somehow he makes all that pomp seem foolish. Absurd. Small.

This is the desert rat. John is the man out of the wilderness who calls – shouts – to the whole world – clean it up and clear the way. Get ready – open the path. Be baptized – repent! Be cleansed of your sin – get rid of it! Straighten the way.

All the high places will be thrown down and the lowly exalted. What is out of true will be made straight and level. The road will be clear – for the one is coming who was promised. The savior! God is sending his salvation. So get ready. Prepare.

And how prepare? Prepare your hearts – make room in there. Clear away the obstacles that would block his progress. Banish curves and abolish detours. He is coming – and he is coming straight in. The roundabout runaround routes, the sophisticated excuses, the diversions and distractions, the out-and-out obstacles to his coming: clear them away!

And rejoice! For God will lead us, his people, with joy.

Our sorrow, our affliction that we wear like weedy garments, our mourning, our sadness and poverty of soul – set that all aside.

Put off the garments of bereavement and mourning. You need not sing a sad song one more time. It is time to rejoice – and put on Christ, the glory from God and his mercy and righteousness.

It is as if you have dressed for a funeral and find yourself at a wedding. It is not time to mourn – it is time to celebrate.

We are being redeemed, set free to live now the joyous lives of God’s own people.


If we clear the way.

What do you need to do to make straight the road to your heart?

I invite you to join me in asking the question.

What blocks, distracts, discourages, obstructs, or prevents you, from opening the way?

Have you got something that you are holding back, holding dear, grasping onto and not letting go, that keeps you from living a life of rejoicing, and keeps you from the King?

Are you letting something take you off course, down a side road, something pleasant perhaps, but enticing you away from paying attention to what really matters in your life?

Is there something you just need to get out of the way – you know it’s wrong and it has to go – if you are to be ready to receive Jesus with joy instead of sorrow?

It is time to get ready.

What do you need to do to clear the road?

For he is coming: he is already on the way.

Let every heart prepare Him room, Let earth receive her King. Amen.


CAdvent2, Second Sunday of Advent, Baruch 5:1-9, Canticle 16, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6, Benedictus Dominus Deus, Luke 1:68-79, The Song of Zechariah, tveucharist, John the Baptist, Eric Hanson, Handel, Messiah, Handel's Messiah, 

No comments: