This week I decided to treat myself by starting the Advent/Christmas season a few weeks early with this new study guide, The Messiah: The Texts Behind Handel’s Masterpiece by Douglas Connelly (InterVarsity Press, 2014). After all, since I was already celebrating Christmas in October, it seemed quite natural for my thoughts to turn next to Handel’s Messiah, which is a Christmas classic for many.
There’s a lot packed into this study guide of under 65 pages:
- 8 study sessions on the biblical texts behind Handel’s Messiah: mainly from Isaiah and the Psalms plus one passage from Daniel, paired in some cases with a New Testament text: Matthew, Acts, or Revelation.
- each session includes suggestions for personal reflection and group discussion, study questions on the biblical text, and a brief section on listening to — or singing! — selections from Handel’s Messiah.
- tips for personal and group study, plus a leaders’ guide written especially for the new leader.
The Messiah is part of the LifeGuide Bible Studies from InterVarsity Press — evangelical in its approach, thoughtful, personal, accessible. All of these are fine qualities, yet at some points the sessions seemed almost too personal, and I found myself wanting to explore more of the community implications of the text. For example in the session on Isaiah 53:1-10, the guide suggests “Spend a few minutes pondering Jesus’ sacrifice for you. Re-read Isaiah 53 putting your name in the text as the recipient of Jesus’ suffering.” I understand this as an exercise in personal devotion, but the Isaiah text is actually written to a community (Isaiah 53:4-5, New Revised Standard Version, emphasis added):
Surely he has borne OUR infirmities
and carried OUR diseases;
yet WE accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for OUR transgressions,
crushed for OUR iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made US whole,
and by his bruises WE are healed.
Somehow it doesn’t seem enough simply to insert my own name into the text — or is that just my Anabaptism talking?
Still, there’s a lot to like in this study guide, whether or not you’re a fan of Handel’s Messiah. And discussing it together with a group should help to open up the personal emphasis to broader concerns.
The final session begins with a reference to a flash mob singing Handel’s Messiah in the food court of a shopping mall. The study guide doesn’t include the link, but here it is for your viewing pleasure:
What about you? Is Handel’s Messiah part of your Christmas tradition? Or is it still too early even to think about Christmas?
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this study guide from InterVarsity Press. As in all my reviews, the opinions expressed here are my own.