Several years ago I read a mystery by George Bellairs that opens on Christmas Eve 1940 as Detective-Inspector Littlejohn is traveling to Yorkshire to meet his wife who had evacuated after their London flat was destroyed in the Blitz.
On Christmas night they visit the Methodist church in a small village to hear the choir sing Messiah. In chapter two, Bellairs captures the wonder and marvel of the evening as the packed church listens.
“From five to six o’clock, the starting-time, a steady procession wound up the hill to the chapel and those from the neighbouring moorland who could not get to town by ‘bus were enthusiastic enough to walk there, for the night of Christmas was fine, sharp and clear and many of them would not feel that a proper Christmas-Day had been spent if it did not end at the chapel Messiah…
“As the lovely overture filled the air, Littlejohn was transported from the hall filled with strangers to the little chapel of his childhood…The ghost of Christmas Past stood by his shoulder. He was roused from his reverie by the tenor solo, which slid easily into its place from the introduction. There was not a vacant seat in the church…The busy chapelkeeper opened one of the doors leading from the vestibule into the main street and the exquisite aria floated out into the still Christmas night and seemed to ring across the moorland beyond. “Every valley shall be exalted and every hill laid low” echoed challengingly in the quiet hills and valleys of the watching Pennines…
“…A heavy, homely woman seated behind Littlejohn murmured in a stage-whisper, “Eh, but it’s luvely.” That expressed in simple terms the whole experience.
“…now and then he and his wife exchanged delighted glances. A spirit of ecstatic goodwill filled the place. Glowing, homely faces met his gaze wherever he looked. The weariness of everyday things fell from the countenances of the poor and overworked; the harassed grew calm; the stiffnecked and starchy seemed to relax and shed their pride; and the humble held up their head.”
The tenor solo begins Messiah with these words from Isaiah.
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” saith your God.
“Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
And cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished,
That her iniquity is pardoned.”
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Ev’ry valley shall be exalted,
And ev’ry mountain and hill made low;
The crooked straight,
And the rough places plain.”
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. And he came into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!
Every ravine will be filled,
And every mountain and hill will be lowered;
The crooked will become straight,
And the rough roads smooth;
And all flesh will see the salvation of God!’”
Christmas Candle Stars: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications: cropped with “Messiah” wording added. (Site has been deleted since original posting).
George Bellairs, Murder Will Speak, 1942.
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