“George, John, Paul and….not Ringo- who is in your brood of vipers?”

Advent 3 Year C 2021

Image from https://pixels.com/shop/fleece+blankets/music

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

We love to tell stories, don’t we?

Stories of loved ones, of their challenges, of their triumphs.

People who have gone before us bear witness to faithfulness, to bearing fruit.

Today I will tell stories of George, John, and Paul, …. But not Ringo (for those of you who are Beatles, fans, so sorry for the pun)

First, I want to tell you a story of a boy named George he was born in Germany in 1685. His father wanted him to be a successful and economically stable lawyer, his mother saw his talent for music, encouraged him to pursue his musical gifts.

While George attempted to humor his father with studies in law, he only did so for a short time and quickly escaped those studies to be a musician. Excelling in playing the violin and the harpsichord, George was not only an accomplished musician, he was also a successful composer. With the rise of operas, he moved to Italy, composed many an opera and was very successful. Moving to London, he continued to compose. As time passed, the operatic style faded in popularity and so did George’s success.

In 1741 George was on the brink of going to debtor’s prison, being unable to pay his bills, and the Irish Duke of Devonshire financed George’s composition to Charles Jenans’ libretto (or text). George was so inspired by the text that in a mere 24 days he composed 259 pages of music for the text.

On April 13, 1742, the world heard for the first time, what we will hear potions of this evening, known as George Fredric Handel’s Messiah.[i]

Set to music, the story of God’s love and hope for God’s people is told from the prophecy of Isaiah to the passion and acclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. Each movement of music telling the story that scripture has told us each year of the hope in this dark world of a new beginning, redemption, and restoration of joy. We are wrapped up in the somber and jubilant music hearing of the promise of prophets and the joy of the coming of the Savior.

Over 250 years later we still sing the story, we will hear it this evening, right in this space.

A little boy who defied his father and used his gifts and talents to tell a story.

And then there is John. John, a child born late in life to parents who have given up the hope of having a child. John, who dedicated his life to prayer and fasting. He was a bit of a zealot. With a father who was a priest, the prayerful life was modeled for him daily.

John, as an only child, also took his call to prayer seriously. He didn’t care about his hair, his clothes, he lived on the edge of town, and he ate honey and locust. He was known for his sharp truth and for his reminding people that they needed to change.

He was not his kind and gentle cousin, Jesus.

Older by 6 months, John went ahead of Jesus in age and in ministry, making straight the path. John the Baptist called people out and at the same time he gave forthright direction.

People from all regions came to hear him speak these words. Gentiles, Jews, Roman Soldiers, tax collectors. These were not the typical assortment of people that you brought home to your mother to gather around the dinner table.

John did not discriminate; his words were for all. Today we hear him speak directly to the community gathered, of gentiles, soldiers, and tax collectors. Those who wanted to know more, who weren’t often in like company with each other.

“Bear fruit with your lives”

“Be fair with one another”

“Do not threaten each other and abuse your power.”

Sounds like great advice, right?

These words were sound advice that was also counter cultural, outward facing, and had a strong impact to those listening.

To not overtax meant less money in the tax collector’s pocket.

As a soldier fear and intimidation were common practice.

Each of these directions were challenges to the status quo.

John spoke with passion, compassion, and compelling all those who came together to grow.

John said to them change your ways, give from your heart, give fully, give to realize we must work together and bear fruit. The spirit is moving among us, calling us to this new thing together.

Finally, we have a lad named Saul who was also passionate about his faith. He grew up in Hebrew school, he learned his lessons, he excelled in leadership as a young man. He was faithful. So faithful that he sent people to jail if they broke church laws.

Then on his way to do his job one day in Damascus, he was struck blind.

In his blindness, he heard a voice. A voice crying out in the wilderness “Why do you persecute me.” Blinded for three days, Saul is taken in and given food and shelter by a man whom he would have persecuted. With this loving care Saul is transformed.

The voice heard on the wilderness road changes his story, he converts not just his name from Saul to Paul, he converts his cause. No longer punishing those who disagreed with him, rather engaging those whom he encountered and exhorting those he met. Paul writes letters, not music, to those whom he loves. He reminds his friends in Philippi to find the deep joy in their lives, to hear the resonating notes of the long-told story, the story of Jesus who lived among them and loved them. To hold onto this love and to not lose hope, just as he is joyful.

Using what he has, Paul’s heart’s delight is to care for those who are distressed, to give them hope, to share with them not fear, but peace.

Each of these men are a part of our own story, giving hope, giving strength, moments of comfort, moments of joy. Each used their gifts and talents to bear fruit, to change the path for those who followed after them and create a space for peace to take root and blossom.

The first performance of the Messiah took place in Dublin. The composition was performed by the combined choirs of St. Patrick’s and Christ Church (a whole 16 men and 16 boys) along with 2 female soloists and an orchestra of strings, 2 trumpets, and timpani. The audience was so large in attendance that women were told to leave their hoops at home. No Hoop skits were allowed that night for all to fit in the space to hear the offering.[ii]

Handel’s messiah first performance was a benefit concert. The proceeds went to three charities in Dublin- a debtors prison relief and two hospitals. This marvelous piece of work provided for others within the community, those on the outskirts of society, those who were overlooked.[iii]

George, John, and Paul, each in their own time and place, invited those who would listen to hear the story, sing the story even, of hope to a world that needs joy.

This season of Advent, we lean into the darkness and remember the story of hope given to us in our holy scriptures. The same story that is sung to us in tradition and still offers the same hope that transformed the lives of those who gathered by the river with John, those who received the letters from Paul and those who heard the music of George.

Jesus, cousin of John,

Like your cousin, you envisioned communities made up with all kinds of people.

And with that imagination, you gathered all kinds of people around you…. Even us.

Call us towards the kinds of communities That will shape and change us

Towards a greater diversity, a greater justice, a wiser distribution of power.

Because this is the Jordan where we will find you and people like you. Amen.[iv]

[i] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-glorious-history-of-handels-messiah-148168540/

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messiah_(Handel)

[iii] https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2017/12/ten-odd-facts-handels-messiah-terez-rose.html

[iv] “what were you arguing about along the way?” Edited by Pat Bennett, Introduced by Padraig O Tuama p.79

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