Hallelujah Chorus at Christmas (2): A Guest Post

In response to my previous post, my friend and former student Susan Jaeger offers the following thoughtful take on the Hallelujah Chorus during Advent and Christmas:

I am aware that the Hallelujah Chorus is not part of the Advent/Christmas section of Messiah (though most performances of Messiah that I have heard during Advent have included the entire work). What I appreciated about the video clip [of the flash mob in Canada singing the Hallelujah Chorus] was that, in the midst of the peak time for pre-Christmas shopping madness, the juxtaposition of the Hallelujah Chorus with all the shopping-mall corporate logos made me think of something Tom Wright might say: if Jesus is Lord, then Mammon is not.

I am not so naive as to assume that the same thought was in the minds of all the singers. Obviously it is impossible to know what their various motivations might have been. It’s just that my own thoughts and motivations are muddled often enough that it is hard to judge others. I found it to be a lovely performance musically. People singing about Jesus as Lord, in the middle of the “Agora,” seemed to me to be a worthy confrontation with paganism, at least slightly akin to early Christianity.

Despite my strong reservations about the Hallelujah Chorus at this time of year (unless sung at its appropriate place in Messiah), including the fear that its powerful content indicated by Susan will be trivialized, I think she makes a very good point. Thank you, Susan.

20 Responses to “Hallelujah Chorus at Christmas (2): A Guest Post”

  1. Susan Kossey says:

    As a musician – i can honestly say – that piece has too much repetition. I mean, even God’s angels say things three times and are done with it. I’d rather go shopping than hear Hallelujah a million times. I think Handel was trying to prove something. Perhaps it was a selling point.

  2. Susan Kossey says:

    Then again, playing devil’s advocate, the best piece of music ever composed was the through-composed oratorio by Hayden entitled ‘the Creation.’ I think Handel had already gained fame from his oratorio ‘the Messiah’ and gave Haydn the boldness to go through with his ideas. Interestingly, none of the pieces in the Creation follows classical form exactly. Mostly just follows the words. Handel started all this by using words and sighs (notes up and down) in certain ways to imitate the emotion of the words. If one takes this train of thought to excess – one could compare the beginning of ‘the Creation’ (Chaos music) to the end of the Messiah (Praise to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords) and see that there is definately a euphoric feeling that something good has been accomplished. In my mind, that would be music went from silence, to music, to praise, and finally to the connection of seeing the Being that we worship and realizing that in Him is light and that He is the light of men. Without Him, we’d be in total darkness.

  3. Susan Kossey says:

    Typically people do not listen to or sing this randomly as a first choice piece of repertoire to impress their spouse or friends. It seems to have a ‘third person’ quality. Like you’re suddenly listening to angels or attempting to sing like an angel. Perhaps there is some ‘otherworldly’ quality to this piece that gives it a bit of mystery – as to how imperfection in the world could ever go missing – and how people would get used to everything being perfect. We know that it is a good thing – but you get this feeling that X-mas might be a second best to Rosh Hashana.

  4. Susan Kossey says:

    In the appendix of the Companion bible – the Course of Abia is explained and referenced back to where each of the courses was given to a different head of family of the Levites. The course of Abia was always a particular time of the season – and thus, dating the approximate birth – we come up with a surprise! It may have been in the fall – around the time of Sukkot when he ‘tabernacled’ with us. To be born then would possibly indicate that he be conceived in December. Who knows what date. Rosh Hashana is the likely time that Trumpets will warn the world that it is experiencing a change of rulership and that the Lord of Lords and King of Kings is making an entrance.

  5. MJG says:

    Susan,

    With all due respect, The Companion Bible is not a trustworthy source for biblical interpretation.

  6. Susan Kossey says:

    I think it was my mistake to say that Abia’s course was only in a particular season – but each of the priests had a turn which was identified by the original family name to know when that family’s turn to serve would be. To accurately determine when it happened during that particular year meant figuring out from other times when another course was happening as the courses followed one another precisely. The bible can explain itself because it gives a lot of clues. We fill in the pieces with occasional outside references to historical facts – but adding too much to the bible causes many facts to be disputed.

  7. Susan Kossey says:

    Part III of this particular appendix explains ‘This was the eighth of the priestly courses of ministration in the temple (I Chron. 24:10) and occurred, as did the others, twice in the year. The courses were changed every week, beginning each with a Sabbath. The reckoning commenced on the 22nd day of Tishri. This was the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles = the great day of the Feast and was a Sabbath. The first course fell by lot to Johoiarib, and the eighth to Abia or Abijah. Bearing in mind that all the courses served together at the three Great Feasts, the dates for the two yearly ‘ministrations’ of Abia was from 12-18 of Chisleu= Dec 6-12 and the second was from 12-18 Sivan = June 13-19. The announcement to Zecharias in the temple as to the conception of John the Baptist took place between 12-18 of Sivan in the year 5 BC. The day following the end of the course of Abia (being a Sabbath), he would not be able to leave Jerusalem before the 20th to ‘depart to his own house’ – therefore to conceive with his wife would require him to have waited until the 23rd of Sivan. This would be the date connected with the conception of John which helps to date Jesus conception and birth as approximately the 1st of Tebeth. So…we have the conception of John the Baptist = June 24 in year 5 BC
    Begetting of the Lord = 1st Tebeth or Dec 25 in 5 BC
    Birth of J.B. = 4th-7th of Nisan = March 25-28
    Birth of Jesus Christ = 15th Tishri or Sept. 29 in 4 BC
    This is reckoning from the first month of the civil year. The sacred year began on the 1st of Nisan.

    **note: understanding many of the intricacies of the likely date of Jesus birth requires understand the Jewish protocol of the time.

  8. Susan Kossey says:

    The Companion bible also notes Luke 3:1 as dating John the Baptists beginning ministry. ‘Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrach of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrach of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrach of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Ananas and Caiaphas (this is a lot of information to note!) the word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.’

  9. Susan Kossey says:

    If John the Baptist started preaching in the 15th year of Tiberias’s reign – it would be around 29 or possibly 28 BC. but no earlier. I happen to personally believe it was 28 BC because of the corroboration of events of Jesus death in 31 AD which was accompanied by two great earthquakes and the dispersion of the Apostles and subsequent persecution by Roman authorities. Jesus ministry was approximately 3 years, so we have a sense of being able to date not only his death in the spring – but his likely birth in the fall – by utilizing both John the Baptist AND Jesus Christ for dating everything.

  10. Susan Kossey says:

    Something I’ve often pondered is why the calendar leaves out the 3 years of Jesus ministry! Perhaps this will come back to haunt Satan when 3 1/2 years of tribulation are ‘added’ by God to the calendar. It is as if Satan thought he could ‘erase’ those years. You have those years unaccounted for in Roman calendar terms because Jesus was approximately 30 years old at the time he began his ministry. AD 29/30/31 could not mean any time according to the bible as giving 3 years of a ministry. According to the Roman Calendar and calculations you have Him dying before this is accomplished. However, If we are realizing that He was born before these Roman calculations – we are suddenly aware that even at THAT TIME – the Romans were trying to cover their tracks and were writing things inconsistent with the Christians about Jesus birth and death.

  11. Susan Kossey says:

    According to the Companion Bible (which i agree that it is outdated compared to recent scholarship – but hey, sometimes old is good too because it has had less time to be obscured) ‘That Christmas was a pagan festival long before the time of our Lord is beyond doubt. In Egypt, Horus, the son of Isis, was born about the time of the winter solstice…the policy of Constantine, and his Edict of Milan, by establishing universal freedom of religion furthered this. When many of the followers of the old pagan systems- the vast majority of the empire, it must be remembered – adopted the Christian religion as a cult, which Constantine had made fashionable, and the ‘Church’ became the Church of the Roman Empire. **note -the romans were fond of Mithraic systems of worship too, and that fit well with the idea of a ‘mass.’ Basically, these were rituals and as i see it – a way for the Romans to erase the 3 years of ministry of Jesus by declaring him dead before his ministry began. A mass was a holdover from mithraic worship. Those who were familiar with the ancient Egyptian/Babylonian systems would recognize at that time more than our day – the holdovers of ritual.

  12. Susan Kossey says:

    The cult of Mithras held its meetings and ceremonies, in small underground chambers called “Mithraeum”. These chambers could only accommodate perhaps 30 people; when the numbers of people became too large for that Mithraeum to hold, another Mithraeum was established.

    The Mithras cult was strictly male in membership and like modern Secret Societies, the cults members were divided into a graduated hierarchy with 7 levels, only the highest grade of initiate could found a new Mithraeum. The ability of the Mithras cult to stay in small personal groups and still expand their total numbers was a key to their survival through any of the ancient persecutions. The cult of Mithras does not appear to be persecuted to any large extent by the official Christian Church, it seems they simply melted into Christianity.

    Many modern Christians do not understand the tremendous influence Roman Mithraism had on early Christianity an influence that still exists today. Every Christmas; Christians, celebrate the birth of Mithras, on December 25, and every Sunday, they worship on Mithras sacred day. Most of the very old Christian Churches, in Europe and the Middle East, are built on top of even older Mithraeum. The Vatican’s Saint Peters Basilica, has an ancient Mithraeum in its basement. Literally and physically, the Soma God Mithras, and the ancient religion of Mithraism, are two of the main foundation stones of Christianity.

  13. Susan Kossey says:

    The resurrection of Jesus was what bothered the Romans the most. They would not allow that to be celebrated.

  14. Susan Kossey says:

    correction to message 9 – 28 or 29 AD not BC

  15. Susan Kossey says:

    Interestingly – and I realize i’ve gotten a bit off topic from the Hallelujah chorus –

    SEPTEMBER 11th – is quoted by some as being the date of Jesus birth had it happened in 3 BC. Since there is no ‘year zero’ – we would have in this situation:

    3, 2,1,2,3…to year 31 AD. According to this theory, if Jesus was around age 30 when he started his ministry – it would be around Passover in the year 28 AD.

  16. Susan Kossey says:

    In 31 AD – apparently the Sanhedrin had to abandon the inner court area of the temple in favor of the outer court. Why? Because it was rubble.

  17. Susan Kossey says:

    Last message – going back to the date of Jesus birth: one author by the name of John Keyser says that a possible reason for there being ‘no room at the inn’ for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem was that Bethlehem was within 3-5 miles of Jerusalem and during the Feast of Sukkot (all Israel was required to keep this Feast) the areas of temporary dwelling around Jerusalem were filled.

  18. Susan Kossey says:

    ok – one last thing from Michael Cortright:
    September 11, 3 B.C. – The great sign in heaven

    Revelation 12:1-2
    And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
    And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

    In 3 B.C the constellation Virgo clothed with the sun as it entered the mid-body in its ecliptic course had the moon under her feet on one day only – Wednesday, September 11th. This configuration was visible in the Palestine area between 6:18 P.M. and 7:39 P.M. on that day. It was during this time period that Jesus Christ was born.

    September 11, 3 B.C. fell on the first day of the month Tishri (the seventh month of the year according to the calendar given Moses following the exodus from Egypt.) Prior to the exodus, Tishri was the first month of the year and “Rosh Hashanah” or New Year’s Day is still celebrated in modern Judaism on this day. It is believed that the first day of the first year was the day that the first Adam was formed, made and created by God. Jesus Christ, the second Adam, was born on this same day in 3BC.

    “During the whole of New Year’s Day [Tishri 1], trumpets and horns were blown in Jerusalem from morning to evening.” – Alfred Edersheim – The Temple: Its Ministry and Services.

    On Tishri 1 [September 11, 3 B.C.] while trumpets were blowing in Jerusalem to honor God and welcome the new year, in the small nearby town of Bethlehem the promised Christ who would reconcile men to God was being born. The religious and political leaders of the day were occupied with their own affairs and unaware of the significant event that was occurring.

  19. MJG says:

    Susan,

    I need to ask you to do four things if you wish to comment on this blog, which is dedicated to serious theological reflection and conversation: (a) stay on the topic; (b) be informed about the topic; (c) be brief, or profound, or (preferably) both; (d) do not respond to yourself.

  20. Susan Kossey says:

    I understand your point. My mind works in tangents sometimes – but they all center around – ‘was Christ REALLY born on Christmas?’ Therefore, do we sing Hallelujah Chorus at an appropriate time?

    I promised my husband to refrain from binging on theological topics which he has begun and finishing any sort of ideas for him. I’m sure i would be just as frustrated should he tell me how to play the piano. Excuse the intrusion. I enjoy reading your blog, btw, and just like to hear different points of view and what people think about different theological topics – albeit from a layperson’s terms.

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