You know we live in a weird world when people will pay $50 or $100 to hear someone recite a 400-year-old Bible translation set to music.
On an unseasonably warm Ottawa night a couple of weeks ago two thousand people paid to attend something you wouldn’t expect to be popular in our post-Christian society: a public recitation of verses from the King James version of the Bible, with symphonic accompaniment. Another two thousand showed up the next night.
The ritual is repeated every December, as people who would never darken the door of a church come to listen to the annual performance of G.F. Handel’s Messiah. Its popularity at Christmas is always a little baffling, given that it was first performed as an Easter piece almost 300 years ago.
As a Christian I understand the appeal, as the oratorio spans time to tell the story of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. I often wonder though what draws those who don’t believe.
Yes, the music is magnificent, and the King James version of the Bible is one of the cornerstones of English literature. But aren’t the lyrics a little offensive if you don’t believe? King of Kings? Lord of Lords? Wouldn’t you rather avoid having to consider the claims of Christ? Or do people not listen to the words?
One of these days the production will be shut down. Someone will ask why the National Arts Centre, a government subsidized cultural organization, is allowed to put on such a blatantly Christian performance. (Other worldviews espoused in other productions will continue to be allowed – to shut those down would be discrimination.)
Until such time, I’m going to enjoy the show, as I did this year. Such a nice reminder that the birth of Jesus is just the beginning of a story that has no end.