This Epiphany we are looking at the carol Go Tell it on the Mountain, an old Spiritual. Last week we looked at the refrain and how mountains are important in our interaction with God and in spreading the Good News.
This week, we find the shepherds who “kept their watching/Over Wandering flocks by night/Behold throughout the heavens/There shone a holy light.”
The shepherds were going about their daily work of tending their flocks. They were not expecting anything unusual to happen. We can imagine them around their fires after the sheep have been herded safely into the night enclosure. Probably they were eating and talking about family. Perhaps they were sharing a concern about some sheep who was limping or had been caught in a bush during the day.
There are lots of things we might watch for. If company is coming, we watch for their arrival. Like the shepherds, we can watch over our children or families. We may watch over our co-workers or our own work to be sure it is done correctly. Perhaps we need to watch what we say or how we do something so we don’t make a mistake.
In the Book of Habakkuk in the Bible, he says, “I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved.” (Habakkuk 2:1) Proverbs 16:17 notes, “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who watches his way preserves his life.”
In Hebrews, we are told, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17) Jesus warns "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” (Matthew 24:42-44)
It seems then, that one very important thing to watch for is the will of God. We should keep watch over our own and one another’s souls, and be alert for the coming of the Son of Man. We are admonished to keep watch for what God will say and be watchful on the highway of life. Sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? Luckily, we don’t have to do it alone. God is right there beside us, via the Holy Spirit, to help us keep watch.
Jesus himself promises that he will be there to guide and protect. “I am the gate for the sheep…I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me." (John 10:7, 9, 14)
Like the cat in the image (by John Henley) sometimes we have a very limited scope of vision. That is when we need to be most alert, and also the time when we can most fully depend on God’s guidance and protection.
The Shepherds in the carol, while going about their nightly duty of watching their flocks saw “throughout the heavens there shone a holy light”. We don’t know what we might see as we keep watch for God’s action in our lives and in the world. That is part of the adventure. Let’s keep watching! Then when we see what God is doing we can ‘Go tell it on the mountain”!