I don’t know about you, but I love positive stories that are counter-intuitive or even, to some extent, counter-cultural. I must not be alone in this, since stories where the hero overcomes incredible odds to achieve his/her goal are quite popular.
One story I love is around composer Ludwig van Beethoven (my favorite) and his 9th Symphony. One remarkable aspect of this, his last completed symphony, is that he was one of the first composers to include chorale music in his symphony. For this, he borrowed (and modified) a poem written in 1785 by Friedrich Schiller called “Ode to Joy.” Another incredible aspect of this story is that by the time Beethoven completed the symphony and first performed it, in 1824, he was almost completely deaf. This would seem to be the greatest curse a professional composer and musician could endure, to lose the sense you counted on the most. And yet, without being able to hear a note of it, he completed one of the most beloved pieces of music of all time. And central to it is the “Ode to Joy”. Savor the taste of the delicious, counter-intuitive irony of this. How could he be joyful when composing music he couldn’t hear?! Here are some of words from Beethoven’s version of the song:
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 9, “Ode to Joy”
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, burning with fervor,
heavenly being, your sanctuary!
Your magic brings together
what custom has sternly divided.
All men shall become brothers,
wherever your gentle wings hover.
To carry this a bit further, in the initial performance, on May 7, 1824, in Vienna, Beethoven desperately wanted to conduct. However, since he couldn’t hear and would therefore be unable to keep the tempo, the orchestra used their own director (Michael Umlauf) to stand behind Beethoven and actually conduct–the performers were instructed to ignore Beethoven’s direction and follow only Umlauf’s baton). When the performance completed, Beethoven was several bars behind, so he was still “conducting”. Caroline Unger, who sang the contralto part, went up to Beethoven, stopped his conducting, and turned him around to face the audience, who was giving him the first of five standing ovations, which included many people waving handkerchiefs or their hands in the air since Beethoven couldn’t hear their applause.
Joy in the midst of tragic yet heartwarming circumstances… Joy from overcoming…
A German workers’ movement started a tradition of performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on New Year’s Even in 1918, timing the start of the performance at 11:00 pm so the finale would carry the audience, uplifted on a wave of joy, into the the new year. This tradition has spread elsewhere in the world as well, as far as Japan.
In 1907, the pastor Henry van Dyke took the melody one step further and wrote the hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee”, which includes such celebratory passages as:
Joyful, joyful, we adore TheeHenry van Dyke, “Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee”
God of glory, Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee
Op’ning to the Sun above
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
fill us with the light of day
And it all started with a composer who couldn’t hear the music he was writing, at least not in the same way you and I would hear it.
Or how about this one, which starts off in the unlikeliest of ways? On a dark and starry night in a small town in the middle of nowhere, the King of kings and Creator or the universe steps down from his throne of glory to be born as a baby to a poor teenage mother who got pregnant out of wedlock. He was born in a filthy barn, wrapped in a dirty rag, and laid in a feeding trough for animals.
If it were up to me, this is not how I would stage the initial invasion against the powerful forces of darkness and evil in this world. There is no way this would work!
It has worked! This poor little child survived despite brutal attempts to kill him as an infant. He grew up, and even though he had no formal training, he became the greatest theologian the world has ever known. And so much more than that!
This man that none of us should ever have heard of 2000 years later still offers His friendship to us. He knows that all of us have fallen short of the perfection God intended for us, but instead of condemning us, He has taken the punishment for each and every one of us that we deserve for our failures.
He died so that we (anyone who calls on His name) can live!
If that’s not a cause for the greatest celebration each of us can muster, I don’t know what is!
If you ponder what this means, how can you feel anything but joy?!
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”Luke 2:8-14 (NIV, emphasis added)
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.1 Peter 1:8-9 (NIV, emphasis added)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!Philippians 4:4 (NIV)