Christmas was only a week away. The days were short, the temperatures hovering around -5°C, and the mid-town streets buzzing with busy Christmas shoppers. There we were, Josephine and I together with two other couples, sitting in the pews of the Christ Church Deer Park, a mid-town Anglican church, eager for Michael Burgess and the Ontario Philharmonic to begin their performance of Handel’s Messiah.
In the last few years, Josephine and I had attended Handel’s Messiah during the Christmas season almost annually. Not only was Handel’s music incredibly talented, the Scriptural passages he used were also extremely powerful and spiritually stimulating, enabling the listener to experience once again history’s yearning and anticipation for the coming of the Messiah, and the great joy and jubilation that erupted when the waiting was finally over. For us, attending the Messiah concert was a wonderful way to really get into the Christmas spirit. In a society totally washed up by secularism and relativism, it was also a breath of fresh air to find ourselves sitting among so many people who deemed it more important and meaningful to take the time to enjoy this Christian tradition of Messiah than to do Christmas shopping.
Although the acoustics of the church were no where near the professional quality of the Roy Thomson Hall, where another Handel’s Messiah concert had also been scheduled to be conducted by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the church setting actually provided a touch of simplicity and humility that perhaps was more suiting.
The lights went dim; the audience settled into a complete silence; and the pastor of the church got on stage to offer his welcome:
“Good evening! I only have three simple things to say,” the pastor shouted without using a microphone. “Number 1, the washrooms are at the back, just down the stairs; number 2, please turn off your cells; and number 3, happy holidays and enjoy the concert!”
Happy holidays? What holidays? This was a concert about the Messiah, about Jesus: his promises and fulfilments; his birth, suffering, death, and resurrection. The people in the audience didn’t come to celebrate some unknown “holidays”! We were there to celebrate Christmas! Happy holidays? Coming from the mouth of a church pastor simply made things a hundred times worse! This little incident was enough to dampen the spirit of the whole evening, and caused me enough irritations to lose concentration for the rest of the concert!