Tag Archive: Debtors prison

Set Free … by Music

Georg Friedrich Händel was born in 1685 in Brandenburg-Prussia.

At the tender age of nine years, Handel began composing church services for voice and instruments every week for three years. As he grew and his talent developed, he worked as a composer in Italy and then England, becoming a German-British Baroque composer well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos. 

Handel became a very successful composer of big, bold musical arias and operas for London society. At that time, going to an opera was not the semi-formal, reverent event it is today. Instead, listeners walked about, eating and drinking, spitting, booing, and sometimes rioting if they didn’t like the song. Handel even started three commercial opera companies to supply Italian opera to the English nobility.

in 1737, exhausted by stress, Handel suffered what appears to have been a mild stroke which impaired the movement of his right hand. Fans thought he might never compose again. However, after a six-week course of treatment in Germany he returned to London to continue composing. Six years later he suffered another stroke. Again, Handel’s audience thought he would no longer write but, once again, he stunned them with a quick recovery.

Handel did quite well with his big, bold music until that style went out of favor. He lost everything and went bankrupt. He is said to have suffered from anxiety and depression. One of his friends, Charles Jennens, sent him a letter filled with Bible references about the Messiah, the Chosen One God would send to redeem His people. Not being a religious man, he set these aside for a time. But when he picked them up and read of the promised Messiah in Isaiah, the coming of the King in Revelation, he locked himself in his study for twenty-four days straight, hardly eating or drinking, to complete this oratorio.

After twenty-four days Handel’s servant heard weeping behind the door. Forcing it open, he found Handel inside, tears streaming down his face. “I think I did see all heaven open before me, and the great God Himself,” he said. He determined to conduct the premier performance of THE MESSIAH in Dublin around Easter of 1742, with the goal of freeing many locked in prison for debts they could not pay. The oratorio received rave reviews and exceeded expectations, raising 400 pounds and paying the debts of between 142 and 157 prisoners.

Imagine those 150-ish men and women bending over, leaving their cells, bodies likely stiff from lack of exercise, as they walked through a low-arched stone passageway into the outside air. Glimpse their joy as their debts were pardoned and they returned to their families to start anew.

This is what Jesus Christ came to give us–new life, hope, peace, love, and purpose.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10, ESV

What a picture of the redemption Christ offers us. For a sin debt we cannot pay, the penalty of which is death, He came to earth, born and placed in a lowly manger, and grew up to show us God’s character. He, the one person born without sin, then gave His life as a ransom for all who would receive this free gift.

So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not have his Son, does not have life.

I John 5:12, TLB

Handel continued to share this oratorio, donating significantly to the London Foundling Hospital for abandoned children and infants.

Throughout his life he was known as a generous man. Never married, his will divided his assets among his servants and several charities, including the Foundling Hospital. And to prevent his loved ones from bearing the cost of burying him, Handel donated the money to pay for his own funeral. He was buried in Westminster Abbey a week after his death. 

It is said that when England’s King George first heard THE MESSIAH, and its closing Chorus, he stood in awe of the King of Kings. That began the tradition of standing during the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus.

In 2010 the Philadelphia Opera Company gathered 650 vocalists (in guise as shoppers) at the heart of a three-story Macy’s which had a large pipe organ installed in the center of the store. As the organ began the introduction to THE MESSIAH, the singers joined in for a fabulous flash mob. I hope you’ll take the six minutes to watch this, look at the faces of those who stop to listen, the hands raised in praise, the cameras taking in the sight and sound of this “Random Act of Culture”. I found it extremely uplifting, and hope you will too.

May you rejoice in the coming of Messiah, once as we celebrate Christmas and the babe born in a manger; and with the promise of His return in the future.

And He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!