Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel’s Messiah

Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel’s MessiahEvery Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah by Albert L. Blackwell
Published by Westminster John Knox Press on September 26, 2014
Pages: 160
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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Handel's "Messiah" is one of the most beloved musical works of the western world, playing an especially sentimental role in many people's Christmas traditions. The libretto of the work, taken directly from the King James text of fourteen books of the Bible, has turned many otherwise forgettable phrases into memorable, singable, cherished lines of Scripture.
This gift-worthy book will delight and inspire classical music fans and those for whom "Messiah" is a beloved Christmas tradition with essays exploring the theological, historical, and pastoral implications of the Scriptures that make up Handel's "Messiah."
Forty reflections journey in order through the oratorio, taking the reader deeper into less-often studied texts like Malachi 3:3 and bringing new light to oft-recited passages like Luke 2:9-14. Each reflection offers the libretto from "Messiah," the same passage in NRSV, and a brief commentary on the text, written by a respected scholar or pastor. Readers can peruse the book at leisure or examine one reflection per day throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons.


If you read one of the forty (brief) chapters of Every Valley each day beginning in Advent, it will take you through the twelfth day of Christmas. Don’t feel that you have to reserve this for Advent, though, despite the book’s subtitle. Handel presented Messiah as an Easter offering in 1742. Since this devotional covers the entire libretto, which follows the entire liturgical year, it would work well during any season of the year. You could start the first day of Lent and finish up on Easter Sunday. Or, you could forget that it’s a devotional and read as much or as little at a time as you wish, simply to gain deeper insight into Messiah. It’s a versatile little book.

The beginning of each chapter very clearly marks which Messiah movement is being presented, so it’d be easy to have a recording handy and listen along as you read. Most of these reflections are excerpts from/adaptations of essays from the lectionary-based Feasting on the Word series. No fluff, no sound bites, no intentional tugging at one’s emotions. Just the text, followed by an intellectually thoughtful reflection on the text. I crave room to learn and to respond of my own accord, so I really appreciate devotionals like this that give me space to use my mind and let the rest come naturally.

Advent is just around the corner (November 30), so there’s still time to grab a copy of Every Valley if you’d like to explore Handel’s masterpiece this Christmas season.