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.

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