Haggai Speaks, Handel Answers

In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts. – Haggai 2:1-9

The Third Sunday of Advent is often referred to Gaudette Sunday. It marks the halfway point through Advent, a day of some relief from restrictions otherwise observed, and a pink candle and vestments mark the day. A similar Sunday in Lent, called Laetare Sunday, is the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Both Sundays remind us that it will soon be one of the two most significant celebrations in the church year. Those days mark the birth and resurrection of the Son of Man and the Son of God.

Marking both Advent and Lent are passages of scripture that appear in probably the world’s most loved oratorio, Messiah. Everybody knows G. F. Handel wrote the music in 1742. Still, few ever know, much less acknowledge the librettist, an English scholar, landowner, and music lover, Charles Jennens (1700-1773). He had written libretti for several other of Handel’s works, but Messiah is probably his crowning glory. 

In today’s Daily Office reading, Haggai the prophet proclaimed words given by God and intended for Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, Joshua, the high priest, and all the remnant people. God reminded them that God was always with them, just as God had been when their ancestors when they left Egypt. That presence continued and would continue. 

The most familiar verses of the prophecy of Haggai are 6-7b, which speak of the reward the faithful, but first, there would be warnings of the seas and lands of all nations. Every time I read these words, Jennens’ libretto and Handel’s solo for bass play in my ear. The first few phrases are a setting for the following: “I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.” The coloratura of the music emphasizes the shaking and trembling, and the listener is drawn into the prophecy itself. 

Advent is about listening to prophecy and heeding it. With the swarms of earthquakes that have been happening lately, this area and reading seem to be calling attention to the fact that God might be trying to get our attention. Ok, I don’t really believe that God causes earthquakes, floods, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, and the like.  I think that the planet and its environment create their own catastrophes. Still, God has often warned us enough in the Bible to be ready and care for our neighbors as we want them to care for us. 

This time of year, this awareness includes responding to natural disasters and offering aid and assistance to the homeless, prisoners, shut-ins, the mentally ill, and those who live in poverty. While it hasn’t been an easy year for so many, it is still good to remember the conception and pregnancy of Mary and the birth of Jesus, and the various gifts given in his honor by the rich (in Epiphany) and the poor alike. 

Haggi’s words still ring true, and beg to be heard and obeyed, in Advent and throughout the year.

Image: Libretto , Recitative for Bass, Handel, G.F., G. Schirmer, Inc., Copyright 1912 edition, p. 24. Photo by author.

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.

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