Thoughts from a Musician's Heart
WAITING FOR EMMANUEL
Every summer I escape the heat in Kansas City to spend six weeks playing in a chamber orchestra in Lake Placid, NY, the heart of the Adirondacks. It was through hiking the high peaks that I learned how powerfully God can speak to us through the natural world. I have often been left speechless from the vast grandeur of His creation viewed from a mountaintop, or the simple beauty of a quiet mountain stream winding its way down into the valley. This world is a work of art and we are blessed to know the identity of the Artist.
As musicians, we are also aware of how powerfully God can use artistic means to speak to our hearts. Last week, my chamber orchestra played Trittico Botticelliano by Ottorino Respighi. For those unfamiliar with the work, the piece is based on three Botticelli paintings. The outer movements are Spring and The Birth of Venus, both masterful movements but it is the second movement that is the heart of the work: The Adoration of the Magi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlRA83f1YYo). Botticelli painted multiple versions of this scene but they all center on Jesus as the focal point with the crowd of Magi approaching to worship the newborn King. Respighi chose to set this movement to the tune of Veni, Veni, Emmanuel (O Come, O Come Emmanuel). The music is plaintive, sorrowful, and yearning, just as those in Israel must have felt waiting for their Messiah to appear. The setting perfectly matches the original text, of which I will share the first three verses:
O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel. O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan's tyranny; From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them victory o'er the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel. O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death's dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Friends, I do not know how often this year you have felt this way. I believe that this is one of our deepest heart's cries, to have God With Us. We need Emmanuel, Jesus, to ransom our own captive hearts from this world so full of darkness and suffering. Sometimes we mourn as though in lonely exile here, but our ironclad hope is that the Son of God has appeared, is with us even now, and will come again to take us to our true home. "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." (Phil 3:20).
The antidote to sin, chaos, suffering, and death is found in Christ. Respighi's doleful, lamenting setting of this hymn gives way to a brief middle section of light, rest, and serenity. This same rest and peace can be found in our Lord as we await our final deliverance. Let us hope in Emmanuel as we wait for his final coming:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4).