by John DelHousaye
My favorite part of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah comes at the end of scene three in the first part when the chorus thunders, “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
At the time of Christ, Jews recited the Trisagion (τρισάγιον) or “thrice-holy” from Isaiah, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory,” a practice adopted by the church (see Revelation 4:8). It was a sacred moment: everyone knew there were wondrous angels in God’s throne room, the Seraphim, who were eternally voicing the same confession (Isaiah 6:2-3).
Isaiah was given this hopeful vision in a dark time of Israel’s history. The people had lost their way and were facing exile from the Promised Land. God seemed distant. The prophet writes, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (6:1 ESV). The claim is shocking because, as the apostle John notes, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). Moses wanted to see God, but could only bear to see an afterglow in the cleft of a rock. But later the apostle cites from the passage of the Trisagion in Isaiah with this disclosure: “Isaiah said these things because he saw his [Christ’s] glory and spoke of him” (John 12:41 ESV). Earlier, he confessed: “We have seen his glory” (John 1:14).
Jesus Christ, God the Son, is the image of the invisible God, who sits at the right hand of God the Father. The Holy Spirit enables us to see a little of this reality—what we can bear. And this brings us back to the words of Handel’s Messiah. The entire verse reads:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Someday, we all shall have opportunity to confess this to his face. But Advent is not merely a rehearsal, but an opportunity, even now, to join heaven and earth in adoration of our King.