Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Messiah

I love listening to and singing Christmas music during the Christmas season. Some of my favorite include “Silent Night”, “Joy to the World”, “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “Oh Holy Night, and “Hark The Herald Angles Sing” (when I was young I would imagine the title to be “Hark the Harold Angels Sing”). One of the most recognized titles is the “Hallelujah” Chorus from G. F. Handel’s Messiah. Ask anyone and they can come up with some of the words to that chorus. If you have been in any choir, you probably sang many songs from the Messiah including the Hallelujah Chorus. I have had several opportunities to be a part of presenting the Messiah in concert.

One of my favorite was when we were living in Southwest Washington. The Vancouver Washington Stake, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, performed the Messiah for the Vancouver Washington and Portland Oregon area one Christmas. There were six soloists and 60 choir members (I sang tenor). The opportunity to be part of that presentation has always been one of the most memorable Christmas seasons I have had. My testimony of Christ’s birth was reborn as one of the soloists sang “Behold, a Virgin Shall Conceive” and as we sang “For Unto Us a Child is Born”. My love for the Savior was intensified as another soloist sang “He Was Despised” and we sang “Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs” and “His Yoke is Easy, and His Burthen is Light”. The Spirit entered into our hearts and testified to everyone of the resurrection and the glory of the Lord as the soprano sang “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” and we ended with the “Hallelujah” Chorus.

For Unto Us a Child is Born

The text for Messiah was written by Charles Jennens. He compiled the text from the King James Bible – mostly from Isaiah and the Palms and some of the new testament scriptures of the Savior’s birth, suffering, crucifixion and resurrection. Jennens gave Handle the text sometime in July 1741 and Handle began composing the music on August 22, 1741 and took him only 24 days to finish his work consisting of 259 pages of music.

“The three-part structure of the work approximates to that of Handel's three-act operas, with the "parts" subdivided by Jennens into "scenes". Each scene is a collection of individual numbers or "movements" which take the form of recitatives, arias and choruses.[16] There are two instrumental numbers, the opening Sinfony[n 2] in the style of a French overture, and the pastoral Pifa, often called the "pastoral symphony", at the mid-point of Part I.

“In Part I, the Messiah's coming and the virgin birth are predicted by the Old Testament prophets. The annunciation to the shepherds of the birth of the Christ is represented in the words of Luke's gospel. Part II covers Christ's passion and his death, his resurrection and ascension, the first spreading of the gospel through the world, and a definitive statement of God's glory summarised in the "Hallelujah". Part III begins with the promise of redemption, followed by a prediction of the day of judgment and the "general resurrection", ending with the final victory over sin and death and the acclamation of Christ.[20] According to the musicologist Donald Burrows, much of the text is so allusive as to be largely incomprehensible to those ignorant of the biblical accounts.[16] For the benefit of his audiences Jennens printed and issued a pamphlet explaining the reasons for his choices of scriptural selections.” (“Messiah (Handel)).

One of the real life stories from the Messiah is of the vocalist Susannah Cibber. Susannah was a prominent English actress and singer. Handle and Susannah became friends and he used her in several of his operas. Susannah married playwright Theophilus Cibber but their marriage was troubled. Susannah’s husband forced her to sleep with a friend of his and Susannah and the friend fled. They had a child together which lead to custody hearings and scandal. Susannah’s reputation was in ruins at the time Handle was working on the Messiah. Handle had moved to Dublin, Ireland where he was invited to continue with his musical career. Susannah had fled to Dublin to get away from the scandals in London. The two found each other in Dublin and Handle asked her to be one of the soloists in the Messiah.

During the first performance of the Messiah Susannah sang the solo “He Was Despised”. It tells of the Savior being despised and rejected and the suffering he endured at the hands of the Roman Soldiers. The words to the song are:

He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with
Grief. (Isaiah 53:3)

He gave his back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off
The hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting. (Isaiah 50:6)

He Was Despised

Because of the persecution Susannah endured in London and her rejection by the people her singing that piece was full of emotion and her quest for forgiveness. In the audience was a Dublin clergyman, Rev. Delaney, and he was so moved by Susannah’s performance and knowing her tragic story he rose and said: "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!" (“Messiah (Handel)). The profits from this first performance of the Messiah went to three charities securing the release of 142 indebted prisoners. The Messiah tells the story of how the Atonement of Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins and we can be released from spiritual prison and with this first performance the prisoners were literally released from their temporal prison.

The Messiah is one of the greatest of all the musical pieces that has been ever written and the fact that it has been performed almost every year since Handle and Jennens wrote it in 1741 is proof of it’s enduring message of hope, redemption, forgiveness and life after death. I know the message is true and that if we will take the time to listen to the music and the words we will feel the spirit of the Holy Ghost testifying of it truth.

The Messiah has come, and he will come again.

The Hallelujah Chorus

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Joseph Smith - The Lord’s Prophet

During this Christmas season we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The joy of Christmas is magical and addictive. As we share the love and hope that comes with the message of the manger, the shepherds, the wise men and most importantly the baby Jesus we spread that joy and hope and others are touched by the spirit of the Holy Ghost.

While there is nothing more important than the birth of Jesus Christ because of the impact he had on us and all of Heavenly Father’s children, there is another birthday that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint celebrate during December. Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805. At the age of 14, Joseph Smith had a glorious vision of Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. He had gone to the Lord in prayer seeking to know what church he should join. The Lord Jesus Christ told him to join no church because none of the established churches at that time had the priesthood authority and ordinances of salvation. In 1827 he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God from the gold plates. In 1830 he received the Aaronic Priesthood authority from John the Baptist, and the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James and John and was commanded to once again establish the Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth. Because of the death of the Apostles and through apostasy the church that Jesus had established on the earth during his mortal ministry was taken from the earth in the later part of the 1st century. The time of restitution of all things that Peter had spoken in Jerusalem not long after the Savior’s resurrection (Acts 3:21) was about to be fulfilled. 

Speaking to the church in November 1831, the Lord said this of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—

And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually. (Doctrine and Covenants 1:17-30)

Shortly after the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed because they would not deny their testimonies of Jesus Christ and the Lord’s Church, John Taylor wrote:

Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated! (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3)

Many people think that we worship Joseph Smith – we do not. We worship our Savior Jesus Christ. It is only through Christ and his atonement that we are freed from the bondage of sin and death. Joseph Smith was the Lord’s Prophet just as Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nephi, Mosiah, Alma, Peter, James, John, Paul and many others. He was a man called of God to do his work. His life was devoted to bringing others to Christ, to teach them what they needed to do to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ. He restored the Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth under the direction of the Lord. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is again established on the foundation of the prophets and apostles with Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner (Ephesians 2:20).

Elder Tad R. Callister spoke in general conference about the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said:

Yes, Joseph Smith did see angels and visions—because he was the instrument in God’s hands to restore the same Church of Jesus Christ as existed in primitive times—all of its powers as well as all of its doctrines.

Through Joseph Smith have been restored all the powers, keys, teachings, and ordinances necessary for salvation and exaltation. You cannot go anywhere else in the world and get that. It is not to be found in any other church. It is not to be found in any philosophy of man or scientific digest or individual pilgrimage, however intellectual it may seem. Salvation is to be found in one place alone, as so designated by the Lord Himself when He said that this is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C1:30).

Because of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ we have modern prophets again on the earth. We understand more about our Savior and our Heavenly Father than ever before. We understand the plan of salvation and have the priesthood authority to administer the saving ordinances of baptism and the temple ordinances which allow us to live with God and Christ as eternal families. Joseph’s own testimony of the Savior was unlike any other. He said:

We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.

His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father. (Doctrine and Covenants 11:2-4)

And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God. (Doctrine and Covenants 76:22-24)

I am grateful to know the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He loves us just as he loved those to whom he ministered during his mortal ministry. He is the reason we celebrate Christmas. I am also grateful for the Prophet Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration. I am grateful for the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. What a blessing it is to have additional scriptures to help us come closer to Jesus Christ. I am also grateful to know we have a living prophet today, President Thomas S. Monson and living Apostles, who are special witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world today. It is truly a wonderful time to live.

Your comments and questions are welcome.