On March 23, 1743 England’s King George II is believed to have attended a performance of George Friedrich Handel’s Messiah. As the famed Hallelujah Chorus began, tradition says the king rose to his feet and by custom, all in attendance also rose. Why would the king stand? Some say he had grown tired, others that he was moved. Neither of these explanations makes sense in that a king would neither be so rude as to stand to leave in the middle of a performance, nor would he be so demonstrative in his emotions. The king stood, because he made a political and spiritual point – he was under the authority of the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords. While we don’t know for sure whether this story is apocryphal, we do know that it has been the custom since that time to stand for the Hallelujah Chorus in productions of Messiah. And so it should be. In his life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus has inaugurated a new Kingdom that will endure forever and ever. We Christians proclaim this as eternally true.
In our culture, truth is sometimes believed to be a matter of opinion. This cynical attitude isn’t new. Pontius Pilate, the representative of imperial Rome, seems to have had a similar viewpoint when he confronts Jesus at his trial. “What is truth?” Pilate asks Jesus. As Bishop Tom Wright says:
The point about truth, and about Jesus and his followers bearing witness to it, is that truth is what happens when humans use words to reflect God’s wise ordering of the world and so shine light into its dark corners, bringing judgment and mercy where it is badly needed. Empires can’t cope with this. They make their own “truth,” creating “facts on the ground” in the depressingly normal way of violence and injustice (How God Became King (2012), pp. 144-45).
In the end whether we choose to believe it or not, Jesus is Lord of the cosmos whose reign of mercy and grace is already a reality. So it is indeed right and true when we stand for the Hallelujah chorus, or when we will hear those words in the concert hall or broadcast far and wide during this holiday season:
The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ,
And He shall reign for ever and ever,