Saturday, December 24, 2005

Unto Us a Child is Born

At each holiday season for the past few years I've found myself thinking of the words, "for unto us a child is born," and of the wonderful musical setting given to them by Handel in his Messiah.

First, the words lead me to muse on how this particular holiday has become a celebration of the child. Even though we adults give things to one another, we know it's really about that shower of presents we rain on our children (and in my case, grandchildren). And even though there was one particular child in the past whose birth this is meant to commemorate, we give our attention, appropriately, to those who are among us now.

With wisdom, the birth of each child should be taken as the great gift that it is, the miraculous appearance on earth of a new being, a new consciousness. Each one is a new blank slate on which a future may be written, each one a new hope that the future will be an improvement on the past as we grow toward a state of perfection that we glimpse as possible.

It's as if any child might be our savior--or maybe all of them, maybe each one born is one six-billionth of a savior, each contributing to the construction of the new year, the new beginning, that is always upon us. And why not? If, as Quakers believe, "there is that of God in everyone," why should we not celebrate this universal divinity by worshiping our own children?

In light of all this, the joy expressed in Handel's music, particularly in that one chorus, seems even more meaningful. I've been listening to the excellent recording of it by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, who, despite the antique aura of their name, manage to make each note breathe with fresh life.

And if that one isn't exciting enough for you, try to find the Roche Sisters Christmas album. Their version has all the vitality of their legendary a capella performance of the Halleluia Chorus, and adds the contemporary touch of tasteful electric bass and synthesizers, with voice doubling effects to sweeten their angelic sound even further. On top of that, they came up with an inspired concluding sequence of descending tones that nails down the message with magnificent finality.

Each time they arrive at the part that says, "His name shall be called," it gives me chills as they seem to add the exclamation points that the text cries out for. Let me leave you with this:

And his name shall be called ...
The mighty God!
The everlasting Father!
The Prince of Peace.

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