Tafelmusik

An Illusory Intertwingling of Reason and Response

Musings: “Cogitations of an Addled Mind,” one might call it, or “Mr. Toad’s Adventure,” for that matter. Most of what I write stems from a long brooding process, and here I present to you, raw and untamed, the results. (Some musings are on a devotional note, and others are seasonally-oriented.)

Tafel :: musings :: seasonal

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Comfort Ye My People

Note: Yes, this piece is somewhat religious in nature. However, please do not allow that to scare you away. I think I can promise nearly every reader, of whatever creed, a line or idea or turn of phrase to carry away. I think you will be glad you read it

“Comfort ye.” A sombre lilt of strings — no reeds, and certainly no horns — overlaid with the smoked glass of flute, opens. (The horn players are busy writing and reading, oblivious to a world which shall not require their attentions for several minutes.)
An overture of predawn and long, desert mountain trails, bears no premonitions of the victorious “Rejoice, O Ye Daughters of Zion!” and “Hallelujah!” to come. Indeed, it seems very fitting to that “story we know”1: yet one more tale of heartache and a supposedly-inspiring moral victory somewhere near the end. But this story — that story which kept Handel sequestered months in its telling — is far from a mere moral victory (though it may be rightly called a victory of The Moral).

*****

“The real meaning of Christmas” is a phrase lost now on me and most Americans: it has become a trite “ad-word”, sermonzing catch-all, and moral to any holidy tear-jerker. It’s a phrase hijacked by anyone who wants to say that Christmas isn’t just about getting, but it’s about {giving, family, unity, etc.}. Everyone, down to the most irreligious, has heard at least one rendition of the First Christmas meant to inspire a holy fear or love or somehow-restored devotion. The thrill of that is long since gone.

What is not gone is Handel. It is one thing to tell a story of a young engaged woman found pregnant with the son of God. It is quite another to begin, not with the Anunciation (as is the manner of most religious, due to Catholic tradition), but with God’s deep desire to send comfort to His people.

Jesus was sent with the commission to “comfort ye my people”, God’s people being the Jews. With all the persecution they had faced, and were facing, and admittedly though their own folly, they were still God’s people. The same God who in the Old Testament promised Abraham that a blessing to all nations would come from his line2 fulfilled that promise in the time of His people’s greatest need.

*****

Yes, sing the “Hallelujah!” chorus. It is fitting. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain”* to receive our praises. But sing “Comfort Ye My People” as well. Handel well knew the real real meaning of Christmas. To him, it was worth what most people would never give up, for friends, family, or even self: comfort. For him, it was a story worth all in the telling, and giving all in the hearing.


1.

“The Story We Know”

The way to begin is always the same. Hello,
Hello. Your hand, your name. So glad, Just fine,
And Good-bye ant the end. That’s every story we know,

And why pretend? But lunch tomorrow? No?
Yes? An omelette, salad, chilled white wine?
The way to begin is simple, sane, Hello,

And then it’s Sunday, coffee, the Times, a slow
Day by the fire, dinner at eight or nine
And Good-bye. In the end, this is a story we know

So well we don’t turn the page, or look below
the picture, or follow the words to the next line:
The way to begin is always the same Hello.

But one night, through the latticed window, snow
Begins to whiten the air, and the tall white pine.
Good-bye is the end of every story we know

That night, and when we close the curtains, oh,
we hold each other against that cold white sign
Of the way we all begin and end. Hello,
Good-bye is the only story. We know, we know.

— Martha Collins

2. “In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” — Genesis 22:17–18

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