Behold, I Bring You Good Tidings of Great Joy

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The video below is an excerpt from of The Messiah by George Frideric Handel, as performed by the London Symphony Orchestra:

The libretto of the excerpt is based on Chapter 40 of Isaiah:

3.   The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4.   Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
5.   And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

The title of this post is drawn from the Christmas story as told in the King James version of Luke’s Gospel. I include it here because I was required to memorize it almost sixty years ago, in the fourth grade — in public school. How times have changed, eh? We also had to memorize the Easter story and a fair number of psalms. Lift up your heads, o ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors!

From those lines of the Christmas story I learned that the shepherds were “sore afraid”. It was my first introduction to the archaic English word “sore”, meaning “very” or “extremely”. It’s from an old Germanic root, cognate with Scots sair and German sehr. But to a nine-year-old it was just a strange phrase that the teacher made us memorize, and didn’t make any sense — were those shepherds mad and scared at the same time, or what?

Here’s the entire passage we had to learn (from the second chapter of Luke). Most of it is still stuck fast in my head:

8.   And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9.   And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10.   And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11.   For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12.   And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13.   And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14.   Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15.   And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16.   And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

That’s a little slice of Christmas cheer to go with your wassail.

Have a joyous day!

9 thoughts on “Behold, I Bring You Good Tidings of Great Joy

  1. An absolute masterpiece! Thanks for sharing this sungen part of the Gospel. Last week I was blessed to join a local choir, for the performance of the Mozart-version of Händel’s creation, Der Messias .

    • Mozart had to adapt the high parts for natural trumpet (ie without valves) for horns, as the musicians of his day could no longer play them.

      Mozart was not too proud to borrow from Handel; the “Kyrie eleison” from his Requiem is based on “And with his stripes” from “Messiah”.

      I’ll stop showing off now.

  2. Thank you for this B. As a girl I became enamored of Handel’s Messiah and would sit in the living room, libretto in hand, and play the albums. I don’t know why I was so taken by it but I used to sing along and eventually memorized the whole thing!
    As an adult I always play it at Christmas and Easter. My boys would just shrug and say “Mom has her Messiah on.”

  3. I noticed that the child was never named in this brief excerpt, so for those not familiar with the Christian religion, “Jesus” was the Messiah’s Handel.

  4. “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel.” (Is. 7:14 KJV)
    “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be on His shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the Throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this.” (Is. 9:6-7 KJV)
    Halleluiah and Glory to God in the Highest, peace to men of goodwill!
    Merrie Christ Masse one and all!

  5. Merry Christmas Baron & Dymphna and thanks so much for including my all time favorite, the Messiah. First thing this morning I had to play the entire masterpiece while getting ready to go out for our celebrations.

    Best wishes for the New Year and hope that it will be a great one for all of us.

  6. Baron and Dymphna, thank you so much for this. When I attended Portsmouth Grammar School in the 1950’s – 60’s, our choral society used to perform one oratorio a year. Handel’s Messiah was one of our favourites.

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