Good-bye, Away in a Manger and the Hallelujah Chorus (the latter at least at Christmas)

Brian Gorman (yes, he’s related) has a fine post about some of the church’s theologically poor and misleading Christmas music, above all “Away in a Manger” (sorry, kids) here.

I will add my two-cents about the Hallelujah Chorus, which seems to be gaining in popularity, at least in shopping malls. While there’s lots to sing about and shout Hallelujah about at Christmas, Handel’s “Christmas Part” (part I) of his oratorio Messiah does not end with the Hallelujah Chorus. Handel and his collaborator Charles Jennens knew better. The Hallelujah Chorus, derived from Revelation 19:6,16 and 11:15, concludes part 2 of Messiah‘s three parts. It celebrates the victory and reign of God/the Lamb, the defeat of evil and emperor, the reality that God alone is and always will be Lord, and the fact that we know this God in the self-revelation of the Lamb who was slain and who triumphs, by his word, over all God’s enemies.

Can we sing that in Advent and at Christmas? Of course. Jesus’ birth demonstrates and foreshadows some of those Revelation themes. But I doubt most people sing it for that reason (actually, I’m not sure why hey sing it, apart from the one word “Hallelujah”), and I doubt, liturgically, narratively, and theologically that now is the best time to sing it. The end of part two of Messiah celebrates the Lordship of God, over against all false claimants to the throne of the universe, that is manifested in the victory of cross, resurrection, and ascension.

Let’s wait a few months to sing Hallelujah.

2 Responses to “Good-bye, Away in a Manger and the Hallelujah Chorus (the latter at least at Christmas)”

  1. Susan Kossey says:

    Thanks for the reminder about exactly where the Hallelujah Chorus is in the Messiah. The judgement comes after in the third section – and typically it seems like a sort of let down to hear that the goats aren’t with the sheep anymore. However, that is how things line up. The defying thing about Handel’s theology to modern Christian theology is that there is a certain understanding that death and life are in the balance here and hell certainly cannot be a place where one lives forever – otherwise, that would be eternal life – in hell. The contrast must be – life/death.

  2. Susan Kossey says:

    The trumpet shall sound

    Bass
    The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
    For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15:52-53)

    The trumpet. . . da capo
    Then shall be brought to pass

    Alto
    Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:54)
    O death, where is thy sting?

    Alto & Tenor
    O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
    The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. (I Corinthians 15:55-56)
    But thanks be to God

    Chorus
    But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15:57)
    If God be for us

    Soprano
    If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

    Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?
    It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:33-34)
    Worthy is the Lamb

    Chorus
    Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
    Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.
    Amen. (Revelation 5:12-14)

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