Awaiting the Messiah: A Musical Advent Calendar {Overview}


The trembling baroque vibrato of strings, the challenging vocal runs, the stirring scriptural text that begs a physical response, since it’s 1742 performance in Dublin, George Frederic Handel’s most popular oratorio, Messiah, has captivated audiences and is now synonymous with Christmas. However, with its prophetical text that spans the old testament foretelling of Jesus’ birth and passion through His second coming and reign in heaven, it is the perfect accompaniment to the season of Advent’s atmosphere and purpose of preparation. During Advent, not only are we called to prepare Christ room in the inn of our heart for his first coming, but also looking forward to and readying our souls for the culmination of His life and sacrifice at his second.

Since adding many of the movements to my college repertoire, Handel’s Messiah, has been an annual companion to our Advent hymns. We would listen to a portion of the composition daily but in a willy-nilly way. Having never taken the time to set any structure to our listening order, we simply played Messiah straight through, or either pulled out movements our four sons requested or that struck my fancy at the time. In her book, Mere Motherhood, Cindy briefly mentions her family’s practice of spending Decembers with Handel’s Messiah and its Biblical text.  She has inspired me to be more intentional with our listening of this masterwork now and in the future.

After making the following Advent Calendar for our family, I wanted to share it with yours. Below I have divided the individual movements of Messiah into an easy listening schedule for each day of Advent so that by Christmas Day our families will have been steeped in the complete work and the Scripture that is its backbone. (Yay!! An Advent calendar that doesn’t involve candy!) This year the season of Advent begins Sunday, November 27th and is 28 days long, but dinna fash (don’t worry!), I have already adjusted the breakdown of pieces for the different possible number of days in future years. My hope is that this Advent calendar will become a tradition your family will want to return to year after year.

Each week I will be sharing the daily listening for the week in the form of embedded Youtube videos, along with the Scriptures that were Handel’s melodic inspiration. The selected recordings were filmed in 1993 by The Brandemburg Consort and The Choir of King’s College Cambridge with Conductor Stephen Cleobury. Your family can simply read the verses then listen to the music, following the text, together, or incorporate memorizing a verse each week as part of your Advent devotion as well. Older children may practice looking up the Scripture references in their own Bibles. The text of the 1752 libretto by Charles Jennens is also included as the typical baroque vocal ornaments make some words difficult to decipher. For additional unstructured listening during the week, a recording of the whole Messiah (below) and a link to a Spotify list containing each week’s specific selections will be provided. Our family will use these during the day for times like meals, chores, and imaginative play.

Additionally, I will share a broad music appreciation lesson, from the weekly selection, for those who would like to dive a little deeper into specific movements. Each lesson, based on our family’s ABC method of Music Appreciation, includes suggestions for multiple ages and will focus on a piece with different form and orchestration. No preparation will be required for these lessons, all that will be needed is my blog post. Each lesson will take about 15-20 minutes to complete depending on the movement selections of the day. Our family will be using the weekday lessons as part of our seasonal Morning Liturgy  (Morning Time). They could also be implemented at another part of your day, as part of your family’s Concert Hour, or as a prelude to your other Advent devotions. Feel free to use them at the time that works best for your family.

Visit all weeks of our calendar below:

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4


Listening Schedule


DAY 1:

  • Part 1 Sinfonia – Overture : Music Appreciation Lesson


DAY 2:

  • Part 1 “Comfort Ye My People” – Accompanied recitative for Tenor
  • Part 1 “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted” – Air for Tenor


DAY 3:

  • Part 1 “And The Glory Of The Lord” – Chorus


DAY 4:

  • Part 1 “Thus Saith The Lord” – Accompanied recitative for Bass
  • Part 1 “But Who May Abide The Day Of His Coming?” – Air for Bass (Alto in this recording)
  • Part 1 “And He Shall Purify” – Chorus


DAY 5:

  • Part 1 “Behold! A Virgin Shall Conceive” – Recitative for Alto
  • Part 1 “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion” – Air for Alto and Chorus


DAY 6:

  • Part 1 “For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover The Earth” – Accompanied recitative for Bass
  • Part 1 “The People That Walked In Darkness” – Air for Bass


DAY 7:

  • Part 1 “For Unto Us A Child Is Born” – Chorus


DAY 8:

  • Part 1 Pifa – Pastoral Symphony
  • Part 1 Angel Recitatives for Soprano : Music Appreciation Lesson
  1. “There Were Shepherds Abiding In The Field”
  2. “And Lo! The Angel Of The Lord Came Upon Them” -Accompanied
  3. “And The Angel Said Unto Them”
  4. “And Suddenly There Was With The Angel” – Accompanied
  • Part 1 “Glory To God” – Chorus


DAY 9:

  • Part 1 “Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter Of Zion” – Air for Soprano
  • Part 1 “Then shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened” – Recitative for Alto
  • Part 1 “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd” – Air for Alto and Soprano (Soprano only in this recording)


DAY 10:

  • Part 1 “His Yoke Is Easy, And His Burden Is Light” – Chorus
  • Part 2 “Behold The Lamb Of God” – Chorus


DAY 11:

  • Part 2 “He Was Despised” – Air for Alto


DAY 12:

  • Part 2 “Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs” – Chorus
  • Part 2 “And With His Stripes We Are Healed” – Chorus
  • Part 2 “All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray” – Chorus


DAY 13:

  • Part 2 “All They That See Him, Laugh Him To Scorn” – Accompanied recitative for Tenor
  • Part 2 “He Trusted In God That He Would Deliver Him” – Chorus


DAY 14:

  • Part 2 “Thy Rebuke Hath Broken His Heart” – Accompanied recitative for Tenor
  • Part 2 “Behold, And See If There Be Any Sorrow” – Air for Tenor


DAY 15:

  • Part 2 “He Was Cut Off Out Of The Land Of The Living” – Accompanied recitative for Tenor
  • Part 2 “But Thou Didst Not Leave His Soul In Hell” –  Air for Tenor
  • Part 2 “Lift Up Ye Heads, O Ye Gates” – Chorus


DAY 16:

  • Part 2  “Unto Which Of The Angels Said He” – Recitative for Tenor
  • Part 2 “Let All The Angels Of God Worship Him” – Chorus


DAY 17:

  • Part 2 “Thou Art Gone Up On High” – Air for Bass
  • Part 2 “The Lord Gave The Word” – Chorus


DAY 18:

  • Part 2 “How Beautiful Are The Feet Of Them” – Air for Soprano
  • Part 2 “Their Sound Is Gone Out Into All Lands” – Chorus


DAY 19:

  • Part 2 “Why Do The Nations So Furiously Rage” – Air for Bass
  • Part 2 “Let Us Break Their Bonds Asunder” – Chorus


DAY 20:

  • Part 2 “He That Dwelleth In Heaven” – Recitative for Tenor
  • Part 2 “Thou Shalt Break Them” – Air for Tenor


DAY 21:

  • Part 2 “Hallelujah!” – Chorus : Music Appreciation Lesson


DAY 22:

  • Part 3 “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” – Air for Soprano


DAY 23:

  • Part 3 “Since By Man Came Death” – Chorus


DAY 24:

  • Part 3 “Behold, I Tell You A Mystery” – Accompanied recitative for Bass
  • Part 3 “The Trumpet Shall Sound” -Air for Bass


DAY 25:

  • Part 3 “Then Shall Be Brought To Pass” –  Recitative for Alto
  • Part 3 “O Death, Where Is Thy Sing” – Duet for Alto and Tenor : Music Appreciation Lesson


DAY 26:

  • Part 3 “But Thanks Be To God” – Chorus


DAY 27:

  • Part 3 “If God Be For Us, Who Can Be Against Us?” – Air for Soprano


DAY 28:

  • Part 3 “Worthy Is The Lamb” – Chorus

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