One of my favourite pieces of Christmas music is ‘For unto us a Child is born’ from Georg Friderich Händel’s Messiah. I have loved it since I was a child, touched by its bouncing joy and the intricacy of its polyphonic choral writing, with lines appearing and disappearing like needles through the musical fabric, aligning with each other for a few ‘stitches in time’ before one vanishes to reappear a moment later in a different hue. As a music historian, I am enchanted by the majesty of Händel’s choral setting, but its glorious lyrics are what I love most. The piece is a setting of Isaiah 9:6—one of my favourite Bible verses:
For to us a child is born,Isaiah 9:6, NIV
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t like change: my natural inclination is to cling to earthly stuff to avoid anything changing, so God has frequently had to remind me that I still await my heavenly home. But while my heart’s tendency to seek stability in earthly things can be unhelpful, its fundamental desire for constancy is good: I should desire constancy, but in God, not the world around me.
When Isaiah wrote the words above, it would be around 700 years before they saw fulfillment in Christ; but they were true and certain because God and his plans are unchanging. When Händel set those words to music 2,440 years later, they were still true, because they had been fulfilled as Isaiah said they would, and their fulfillment provided hope for all the world. And they remain true now, 279 years further on: we can sing them with the same joy as Christians in Händel’s 1740, because the Christ has been born, he has died and risen in fulfillment of the prophecies, and continues to reign today as our Mighty God, our Wonderful Counselor, our Everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace.
The coming of another Christmas season reminds me how quickly time moves on, the world changing about us. But I love ‘For unto us a Child is born’ because it reminds me to praise God this season that some things never change, remaining true yesterday, today, and forever!