He’s Coming!

In the fundamentalist church where I grew up, we never did advent.  I never even understood what the word meant until well into my twenties, when we began to visit other churches.  The practice of advent, whether in family devotions or in church, can grow as stale and rote as any other, but it’s something I’m rather sorry to have missed.

While I wasn’t looking, a lot of good family advent readers have been published, and I would love to write about some of them except that it’s a little too late for this year.  (We’ve already got a calendar loaded for next year!)  However, a dear sister at church had us over for tea a couple of weeks ago to talk about advent plans, and she introduced me to a book I had to borrow for a closer look.  The bad news: it was published in 1999 and is now out of print.  The good news: you can get still find it online for ridiculously cheap ($10 for lovingly worn) or ridiculously expensive (starting at $40).

The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader, as the title suggests, takes one reading per day of the four weeks leading up to Christmas and pairs it with a selection from the world’s best-loved oratorio.  In 27 days—Christmas day not included—the family will have listened to 26 arias and choruses and reflected on the biblical significance of each text.  The daily readings freely range over time and space, beginning with “Why the Gentlemen Couldn’t Wear Swords,” about the first performance of Messiah, and coming full circle on Christmas Eve to “Why the King Stood Up.”  In between, the family will learn about the Christmas Truce of 1914, the Flying Snakes of Ubar, the character of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the nature of light, the origin of caroling, Charles Dickens’ inspiration for A Christmas Carol, the geography of Bethlehem, the Highway 50 Christmas tree, and other lore that shows God’s work and God at work.

The Messiah Advent Reader is best suited for ages eight and up; younger children may lose interest on some of the longer readings.  For those who are still paying attention, a supplemental section includes more details about the reading, further definitions, additional Bible references, and ways to “Dig Deeper” into the subject of the day.

But the music—that’s something everyone should have in their mental library.  We all recognize “Hallelujah!” (which is actually not my favorite chorus in Messiah), but what about “He Shall Purify” or “All We Like Sheep”?  How many of us have ever shivered in anticipation when the bass sings “But the Lord shall arise upon thee,” with its ascending melody, or listened for the last angel leaving the sky after “Glory to God in the highest”?  I’ve been privileged to participate in two Messiah productions, and both were soul-stirring experiences.  I wrote about one of them here.  If Messiah is not part of your Christmas plans, consider its inclusion.  Dust off the old CD or cassette tape, or start perusing the community calendar for sing-alongs or University performances.

Remember that appreciation grows with familiarity: if the kids don’t fall in love with the music at first hearing, give it another hearing.  Pick two or three favorite choruses and one or two solos; keep playing and listening, and chances are they’ll come around.   You might listen to some of the Messiah samples from Hallelujah Handel! of the Classical Kids audio series.  For more background on Handel, see Handel at the Court of Kings, by Opal Wheeler.   And if you’re totally in the dark about teaching music, Emily suggests taking a look at Squidoo for ideas.

As I mentioned, used and new copies of The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader are available, but since it’s out of print, your best bet is online booksellers: try Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ABE, and Half.com.  Some used copies are missing the CD.  That’s not necessarily a problem, if you have a high-quality recording or choose to invest in one.  One drawback of the book is that it doesn’t list the musical selections for each day, but we can do that here: 1. Hallelujah!; 2. Comfort ye; 3. Every valley; 4. And the Glory; 5 Thus saith the Lord; 6. But who may abide; 7. And He shall purify; 8. Behold, a virgin shall conceive; 9. O thou that tellest good tidings; 10. For behold darkness; 11. The people who walked in darkness; 12. For unto us a child is born; 13. There were shepherds; 14. Glory to God in the highest; 15. Rejoice greatly; 16. Then shall the eyes; 17. He shall feed his flock; 18. His yoke is easy; 19. He was despised; 20. Surely, he hath born our griefs; 21. And with His stripes we are healed; 22. He was cut off from the land; 23. How beautiful are the feet; 24. Why do the nations rage?; 25. I know that my Redeemer liveth; 26. Worthy is the Lamb; 27. Hallelujah!

Whether or however you celebrate advent, it’s time to get ready.  Christ came in time, he comes to each believer’s heart, and he is coming again: yesterday, today, and forever.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Do you have any personal experiences with Handel’s Messiah?  What are your favorite selections?  I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours!  Also, if you have any favorite advent readers, please share with us.  We’ll try to review them in a more timely fashion next year!


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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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  1. Marlo on November 29, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    I love the idea of joining the Advent with Handel’s Messiah. I’m going to have to look into that suggestion. I still remember seeing Handel’s Young Messiah in concert when in high school and fell in love with the song “Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs.” I can still feel the power of that song.

    We have used many advent readers over the years. One of our favorites is a series by Ytreeide: Jotham’s Journey, Tabitha’s Travels, Bartholemew’s Passage. We read them when my boys were in early elementary, and they couldn’t wait to hear the story each evening. This year we are doing something different for us, a Jesse Tree, and we’re using Ann Voskamp’s devotionals and ornaments that she provides through her blog A Holy Experience. I like to vary the tradition each year to keep it fresh while we anticipate His coming!

  2. Sheila on November 29, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for this info. We’re doing the Jesse tree this year for the first time. I think we’ll try this in a few years when my boys are older.

  3. Gently Mad on November 29, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Last year my Bible study class studied the book of Isaiah. I found it impossible to read many of the passages without hearing “Messiah” ringing in my ears. I hope I can get a decently priced copy of this book.

  4. Belinda Stewart on December 2, 2011 at 3:25 am

    I encourage anyone interested in obtaining The Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader to please contact Moody Press and urge them to re-publish this exceptional book. Our family used it each year. I am now 60 years old and would love to be giving this book as gifts to young Christian families I know as well as to friends who love Handel’s Messiah, but need to meet Messiah Himself personally.

    Join me, please, in urging Moody Press to reprint! Used copies are going for unreasonably high prices.

    Many thanks. Have a blessed Advent.
    Glory to God in the Highest,

  5. Janie Cheaney on December 2, 2011 at 5:54 am

    Belinda: Great advice! I understand that the Ytreeide series mentioned by Marlo was out of print until enough homeschoolers besieged the publisher to bring it back. Thanks for the spur–I’m going to contact Moody today!

  6. Janie Cheaney on December 2, 2011 at 5:59 am

    My favorite Messiah choruses: I love “The Glory of the Lord” for its jubilant dance rhythm; “All We Like Sheep” for the way it pictures giddy, heedless sinners following each other off a cliff and the devastating code at the end (“And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”); “He Trusted in God” for the stomping overlapping rhythm of mockery; Glory to God in the Highest” for the beat of angel wings in the accompaniment; the truly awesome “Amen” chorus at the end . . . and a lot more.

  7. Megan on December 2, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Well now I’m coveting, because I can only find $40+ copies, and I’m tantalized! I’ll join in contacting Moody and ask them to re-publish. We’re taking our boys to a performance this weekend, and I CAN’T WAIT! I’ve missed hearing it in person for the last several years, but we’re listening to the Rutter recording on CD every day to prepare. What wonderful words and music to be singing in my heart all day!

  8. […] essay contrasting A Christmas Carol with Handel’s Messiah.  Redeemed Reader has reviewed a Messiah-themed Advent reader, as well as a read-along guide to A Christmas Carol.  And finally, Christianaudio.com is offering […]

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