Everlasting Father

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,
    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.

(Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

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!


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Thanks, Georgina, for this inspiring piece.  I too love this section of Handel's Messiah - but I think I hear it in a slightly different way from you.  For me there's something final about the Incarnation that makes the Christmas story especially wonderful.  I love the way that Handel's libretto matches up Hebrew prophecies of the Messiah, via the Nativity story itself, with New Testament prophecies like "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."  As a child I used to believe there was a heavenly home for God's people, but I think this was mostly because of certain Christmas carols and the odd sermon, because I now see a much more new-earthly future in the Bible.  My soul warms so much now to the Christmas story because I find that the earthly incarnation of Jesus Christ points forward to the new-earthly age to come at His return.  (I suppose, to be fair, it's often portrayed in Scripture as a heaven-plus-earthly new creation, as if the distinction itself disappears in the end.)  And this validation of earthly life, minus its sinful worldliness, seems for me to legitimise the childlike wonder of Christmas about which you wrote so wonderfully a year ago!

Perhaps there's a childlike innocence that, by forgetting evil, can better glimpse in Christmastide the glory of the new creation, and almost allows us to confuse Christ's first coming with His second?  And I wonder if such confusion might occasionally (say, once a year!) help us in our struggle against "flesh and blood"?

Sorry - my comment got poster prematurely... I meant to end:

And I wonder if such confusion might occasionally (say, once a year!) help us in our struggle against the flesh, while waiting for our perishable bodies to be clothed with what is imperishable, when death will be swallowed up in victory?

I agree Richard! I love the 1 Corinthians 15:45 passage you alluded to that says 'When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." (NIV) I think what I meant by 'heavenly home' is the home God has prepared for us to dwell with him - which will be our new earth, where things don't fall apart or fade (or change for the worse!) 

I really do think Christmas is a special time to wonder at the truths of Christ, his love, salvation, and God's plan for the world, that we know all year, but which seem particularly tangible at Christmas: Christmas seems like a time when the world holds its breath in remembrance of Christ's incarnation, and in anticipation of his return. 

Thanks for your comments Richard!

Thanks for this excellent piece on Handel’s Messiah Georgina. I agree with Richard about heaven not being our home. I think it important to point out that Plato taught that humans have immortal souls and that these immortal souls belong in heaven. Plato says this very clearly in his dialogue Timaeus. This perspective is shaped by the Orphic Myth which presents heaven as ‘our home’ whereas Genesis presents the earth as the human ‘home’. I think it is also worth pointing out that Aquinas argued that the belief in the soul’s immortality leads to the inquisition. If the soul is immortal it is better to burn the inferior and temporal body in order to save the immortal and 'eternal' soul. Queen Mary 1 used this argument in her zeal to burn to death 300 protestants for heresy. This is just one reason why it is so important to reject platonic thinking.

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