967) The Messiah and Scrooge

By Al Rogness, The Word for Every Day, Augsburg, 1981, page 359.

     No Christmas seems complete for me without hearing again the great message of the Lord’s redemption in Handel’s Messiah and in reading the story of a man’s transformation in Dicken’s character, Scrooge.

     For over 200 years since its premier in Dublin, the Messiah has inspired audiences the world over.  Opening with the tenor recitative from Isaiah, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God,” and rising to the heights in the “Hallelujah Chorus,” and closing with its thrilling lines, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,” it joins a remarkable selection of Scripture with an inspired musical score to usher the listener, or worshiper, into the vestibule of heaven.

     From Ireland it moved to England where in 1759, at Covent Garden, Handel, then nearly blind, made his last public appearance, dying eight days later on the eve of Easter Sunday.  From England it went to Germany, where at one performance there were a thousand singers and instrumentalists.  Parts of the oratorio were first sung in the United States in a New York tavern in 1770.

     In Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol the night visitor, Marley’s ghost, warns his partner, Scrooge, that a grim fate like his awaits him if he does not mend his ways.  Scrooge says, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”  Marley replies, “Business… Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business: charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”  And, after the “miracle” of Scrooge’s transformation, I like the words that summarize the change:  “Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew… and it was said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed that knowledge.”

     Next to the incomparable story in Luke 2, these two pieces, the Messiah and The Christmas Carol, set the tone for my Christmas.  They can for yours, too.


Marley’s Ghost visits Ebeneezer Scrooge

From A Christmas Carol, 1843, by Charles Dickens:  

     “Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “…Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.  Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!  Yet such was I!  Oh! such was I!”

     “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

     “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  “Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

     It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

     “At this time of the rolling year,” the specter said “I suffer most.  Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!  Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”

     Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the specter going on at this rate, and began to quake exceedingly.

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Luke 2:1-7  —  And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)  And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:), to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

     And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.


Text of HALLELUJAH CHORUS from the Messiah (1741) by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759):

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!…

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!…


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