On this day in 1743, Handel’s Messiah took its first bows in London. Though Handel had premiered his oratorio earlier in Dublin, English audiences would catapult it to everlasting fame. The setting for the debut was not a stained-glass cathedral, but a public theater called the Covent Garden. In the beginning, Messiah sparked a firestorm of controversy. One clergyman sniffed, “Any work about the Omnipotent should never be performed in a playhouse.” The story goes that King George II respectfully rose to his feet during the rousing “Hallelujah Chorus,” prompting audience members to do the same. Some dispute that report, but we do know that it took about a year for the public to recognize Handel’s work for the masterpiece it was.
George Friedrich Handel was at low ebb when he composed Messiah. Tormented by debt and ill health, he locked himself in a room for three weeks, refusing most meals. As he was polishing his “Hallelujah Chorus,” a servant tiptoed in with a tray of food. Tears streaming down his face, Handel turned to the servant and said, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!”
Some people long for genius, lusting after the recognition and riches that extraordinary giftedness can bring. Yet most of us will never compose an immortal oratorio, write a groundbreaking book, or discover the cure for a dread disease. This is no cause for despair. When Jesus summed up the greatest commandment of scripture, He said to love the Lord your God with all your mind—not wish for someone else’s. The Commandment also exhorts you to love God with all your heart, soul and strength. The least can glorify God as much as the greatest.
God gives each of us a measure of intelligence to use, but most importantly, he gives all of us a heart to praise him. A devout Christian, Handel used his heart as well as his mind to compose Messiah. We must do the same in our endeavors. In the end, faithfulness is worth more in the economy of heaven than I.Q.