The First Week of Advent
During Advent, I thought you might enjoy hearing about the best gift that I ever received from my parents. [In this blog, I’ve previously written about and included photographs of my parents. See The Heroes Among Us: First in a Series.]
I come from a long line of sacred choral music singers [from Winston-Salem, NC]: My grandfather, R. E. Blair, was a professional choir member at the downtown Episcopal Church. My great-grandfather, D. I. Long, was the Choir Master at a Reformed Church, where most of his [eight] adult children sang in the choir, including my grandmother, Hope Susan Long Blair [see The Heroes Among Us: Second in a Series.]
My father & mother met at Guilford College, NC, while both were in the choir, where they sang a wide range of sacred choral music, under the expert direction of Dr. Ezra Weiss. For the next three decades, the years they invested in various church choirs provided for my parents some of their richest memories and most lasting friendships.
Once every Advent, my parents performed in Handel’s Messiah Oratorio and we four Blair children attended every performance. As a young child, I was probably motivated out of a sense of familial duty more than a love of sacred choral music. However, over the years, I learned to thoroughly enjoy every aspect of the performance: the libretto, the music, the soloists, the conductor, the instruments, the pipe organ, the candlelight in the church sanctuary, the Advent Chrismon decorations on the evergreen tree — all of it combined to offer a sense of the sublime and majestic!
I suppose a happy mixture of “nature and nurture” bestowed upon me a love of sacred choral music, an ear to appreciate it, and a voice to sing it. As an adolescent, I enjoyed singing in the church youth choir and in the school choir. [In the 60’s, you may remember, we sang sacred music in secular schools.]
Now, fast-forward from the 1960’s to 35-40 years later, when Stephen and I began to study theology. It was then that I realized that everything that I knew about theology, up to that point, I had learned from the libretto of Handel’s Messiah Oratorio: the grand redemption narrative, the prophecies, the integration of the Old and New Testaments, the historical events of the Triune God: the Creation, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and the Second Coming.
My parents introduced me to Handel’s Messiah Oratorio when I was a child and, over the years, both the music and words shaped and formed my young life, in a gradual inclination of my “heart, mind, soul, and strength” toward knowing and loving the Triune God.
So, every Advent, in my parents’ memory, and for my own enjoyment, I will listen to the complete CD of Messiah and I will participate in the community-wide Messiah Sing. I may silently weep during part of the Messiah Sing, as I think about my parents. However, I will be in sympathetic company. At the 2005 Messiah Sing, the alto sitting next to me whispered, “I may weep a little because I lost my mother this past year.” I squeezed her hand and whispered, “Me, too.”
My parents are both gone but their gift to me will continue to benefit me for many years, as I continue to listen, to sing, to study, and to mine the riches and depths of the theology of Messiah! What a gift!
One of the other “best gifts” I ever received was in 2009, when my daughter, Haley, flew home from Texas, for a three-day visit, with the express purpose of singing with me in the Messiah Sing! And, so, the best gift from my parents extends to the next generation. Glory to God!
Resources for Handel’s Oratorio, Messiah:
- Book: Hallelujah: The Bible and Handel’s Messiah, by Carol Bechtel Reynolds, A Resource Book published by the Kerygma Program, 1995.
- Book: Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader [The], by Donna W. Payne and Fran Lenzo, Moody Press, 1999.
- Book: Messiah: The Gospel According to Handel’s Oratorio, by Roger Bullard, Eerdman’s, 1993.
- CD: Do It Yourself Messiah CD [The]: [A choral tutor for your voice: Order Soprano, Alto, Tenor, or Bass].
- CD: Handel’s Messiah, Robert Shaw, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chamber Chorus, 1984, Telarc, CD-80093.
- Score: Messiah Oratorio [Complete] by G. F. Handel, Score, G. Schirmer’s Edition.
- Website: Messiah Sing! www.tallahasseemusicguild.com.