January 14, 2018

Go Tell It: Watching

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”!

January 7, 2018

Go Tell It-On the Mountains

One of my favorite Christmas carols is Go Tell it on the Mountain. It was first published by John Wesley Work, Jr. in 1907. Work, born in 1871 in Nashville, TN attended Fisk University where he developed an interest in collecting Negro spirituals while studying Latin and history as well as singing in the Mozart society. Fisk University was founded in 1866 by the American Missionary Association to provide schooling for Black freedmen. Music was an important part of the curriculum from the beginning including the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Work later studied for a year at Harvard and received his Masters from Fisk University in 1898. He then began teaching Latin and Greek at Fisk University. With his brother he collected, harmonized, and published collections of slave songs and spirituals. He continued his work gathering the old songs even after leaving Fisk University in 1923. He served as president of Roger Williams University until his death in 1925.

Throughout Epiphany we’ll be looking at a verse of this song each week. The theme of the carol is to Go, Tell, which is the message of Epiphany. The refrain inspires us to

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

Mountains can be intimidating to climb and awe-inspiring to look at. Some people spend great amounts of time, and money, getting to the top of Mt. Everest or being the first to summit some other high peak. In Colorado there are a series of peaks that are over 14,000 feet high known as Fourteeners. Many hikers strive to climb one or more of these mountains. (Others of us prefer to take the road to the top for the view, like this one from Cottonwood Pass, CO, which is only a little over 12,000 feet in elevation.)

When you are on the top of a mountain, you can see for long distances. From the top of Sandia Crest in Albuquerque, you can see to Mount Taylor (over 100 miles to the west) and sometimes even further. It is no wonder that in all cultures, mountains have been regarded as the home of the gods.

There are lots of verses about Mountains in the Bible. God often meets someone on a mountain. Think of Noah, who landed on Mt. Ararat and Moses who met with God on Sinai and Horeb. Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain until restrained by God. There was Elijah who fled to the mountain of God and was there consoled and encouraged by the ‘still small voice’.

Mountains are also compared to God’s steadfast love.For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken," Says the LORD who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10) Psalm 95 reminds us “In [God’s] hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also.”

Jesus is tempted on a ‘high place’ to worship Satan (Luke 4:5-7). Jesus preaches on mountainsides and is transfigured on a mountain while talking to Elijah and Moses. Later, he compares mountains to faith. In Matthew 17:20 he says, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

The refrain of our song says we should ‘go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born’. This is an echo of Isaiah 40:9 “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’” This verse may remind you of Handel’s Messiah in which the solo uses these same words.  

We are encouraged to get out of the day-to-day valleys of life to proclaim this good news. From the heights we can see further and be heard for greater distances. We are invited to meet God in the hills, like the ancient prophets did. The song says that the Good News is to be told over the hills and everywhere.’ Sometimes it is necessary to get away from the distractions of the everyday life in order to be found by God.

How can you escape from the day-to-day valleys to find a mountain and tell the Good News?

Are there mountains you need to surmount to tell the Good News?

What does the Good News that “Jesus Christ is born” mean for you in this New Year?
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at the Shepherds response to the announcement.