If you have spent much time with me at all you have probably heard me talk about a 1994 “modern oratorio” called “Saviour: The Story of God’s Passion for his People”. If you have been in a Bible study with me you have definitely heard one or more of the movements.
I love oratorio. At its core the oratorio is a dramatic musical work that is performed as a concert instead of as musical theatre. Think of it as opera without the costumes and movement. One of my favorite parts of performing oratorio is that you are allowed to hold the music as you perform.
In college I was banned from singing oratorio on my junior recital and I am convinced it is because they assumed that I liked holding the score and not having to memorize the music or lyrics. But the truth was that I simply loved how intricate the music and lyrics were, in many cases almost verbatim lifting of scripture set to music.
Performing Oratorio is the closest I can think to what David must have felt as he wrote the Psalms. On stage during oratorio you are completely surrounded by the music and in front of your face are the words from scripture that are coming to life. I return to “Saviour” often in my own life to reconnect with scripture and as a reminder of God’s consistent love.
The 10th song of “Saviour” is “We Need a Saviour” and Bob Farrell and Greg Nelson wrote these lyrics:
The people said: “Send us a strong king,
A man from God to end our suffering
O, Lord, hear our cry”
Longing for the sweeter taste of freedom
And the day that they would see Him
Coming to lead their people on
Reigning as a conquering avenger
Watching enemies surrender
Finding that liberty had come
For centuries the Israelites wanted God to bring them a king that would vanquish their enemies here on Earth. It never seemed to matter that God continually sent prophets and teachers to tell them his ways were different. Peace, the Israelites believed, could only come through the strength of an army led by a King.
Read – Isaiah 53:1-8
Farrell and Nelson write in “Man of Sorrows” almost verbatim from Isaiah 53 the description of how the Israelites would completely miss it when the actual savior arrived:
He was despised and rejected by man
A man who was acquainted with grief
And as one from whom men hide their faces We regarded as one who was stricken by God He was a man of sorrows, a man of sorrows
Later the prophet Zechariah would receive a vision where an Angel reminded him of what was promised to Zerubbabel who was in the direct lineage of King David and one of the ancestor’s of Joseph. (You shouldn’t be surprised when this happens anymore.)
In Zerubbabel’s time the Israelites were once again exiled from the promised land and God demonstrated yet again that he intended to do things differently. Zerubbabel was appointed governor over Judah by the Persians who defeated the Babylonians and brought the Israelites back into Jerusalem.
Here is what Zechariah writes in Chapter 4, Verse 6, “Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.'”
Not surprisingly there is a musical interlude in “Saviour” that references this prophecy:
Rise up and see your deliverer
For it is not by might and not by power
But by the Spirit of the living God
Again and again God is trying to tell his people that my ways are not your ways. Trust me. Be obedient.
One musical device that is used in oratorio (and opera) is called the recitative. It is a short piece meant to mimic speech. You might think of it in a chant like way. The performance is usually done with the words “sung” on the same note with a more speech like delivery not in time with any musical cadence.
When it comes it is so different than the surrounding sections that it makes the audience take note. As if the composer wants everyone to pay very close attention.
In “Saviour” there is a recitative between the songs “We Need a Saviour” and “Man of Sorrows”. The recitative is very short just 30 seconds. With only these words:
Redemption did not come as they expected
For He came not as a king
Nor as a thing of beauty that they should desire Him
The Israelites wanted God’s deliverance on their terms, when they wanted it, and in a way they understood the world to work. It is understandable how they never expected Jesus. They expected a mighty king resplendent in beautiful robes, a warrior who could raise an army against any foe.
But, Jesus did not come as a king ready for war. He came as a prince.
The Prince of Peace.
Sing – Silent Night
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.