Go Tell It on the Mountain
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 27, 2020
1st Sunday of Christmas
There is a beautiful statement attributed to St. Augustine: “The one who sings prays twice.” Of all the things we miss about how we worshiped prior to the pandemic, I daresay for many of us, singing together tops the list. To join our voices as brothers and sisters in Christ warms our hearts and reminds us of who we are and, more importantly, whose we are. Hymns of our faith help us tell the story of God’s love in wondrous ways: Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee; Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land; O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel; Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king.”; Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
As a Minister of Word and Sacrament, charged with the responsibility of designing worship services, when I think of the songs of our faith, I think of songs that simply must be sung at particular times in the life of the church. For example, every Easter Sunday, I feel compelled to include “I Danced in the Morning” as our final hymn. Why? Because in my humble opinion, it provides one of the best retellings of the life of Christ in its entirety. Another song that almost always makes the cut for the 1st Sunday of Christmas is “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.
The song, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is an African American spiritual that likely dates back to the mid-1800’s. Originally it was passed from plantation to plantation orally until it was finally put to paper and then recorded. Regarding the song, I happened upon the following from a Presbyterian Church blogpost:
“Go, Tell It on the Mountain” is a joyful clarion call to proclaim from the mountain that a Savior is born. Messiah is come! It is an expression of joy and ecstasy for the poor, the downtrodden, the lonely, the insignificant. It is a fresh declaration each Christmas that Jesus is in the world – He was born in Bethlehem. Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, John Wesley Work II, who taught Latin and history at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, heard someone sing this refrain. He shaped the melody, harmonized the tune, and added some original stanzas. In 1907 he published it in a small booklet, Folk Songs of the American Negro. This song and well-known versions of… “Lord, I Want to Be A Christian,” “Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door,” and “Were You There” were also included.[i]
While “Go tell it on the mountain” is an expression of joy, it is also a vivid picture of what we are to do with the news of the Christ Child’s arrival. And just what is it that we are to do? We are to respond. Let us take a moment to look at how Simeon and Anna respond. When Simeon comes face to face with the Christ Child, he praises God, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The prophet, Anna, who never leaves the temple but worships there with fasting and prayer night and day, adds her own voice of praise, speaking about the child to those looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. In response to the presence of Jesus, neither Simeon nor Anna can keep from praising God—can keep from telling those around them what has happened in their hearts.
Here we are, some 2000 years later. Is our responsibility any different than that of Simeon and Anna? Aren’t we, too, charged with telling the story—over the hills and everywhere—that Jesus Christ is born? And if we do not, who will? Truth be told, Presbyterians are not known for placing an emphasis on evangelism. We tend to shy away from being so bold. We feel more comfortable relying on words often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words. Perhaps such an attitude sufficed when Christianity held a privileged position in western society—when church attendance was a priority for every man, woman, and child in the neighborhood. But those days are long gone. So, what are we to do?
It is common in African American churches for the preacher to call out during his or her sermon: “Can I get a witness?” To which often comes the response: “Amen.”[ii] Can I get a witness? It is a good question, and it is a question to which we must all respond in some form or fashion—if we are serious about being a follower of Christ. For you see, acting as a faithful disciple will at some point require that we speak of our faith—that we offer our testimony, if you will.
If the whole idea makes us nervous, we might reframe it by considering what happens when we have a delightful meal at a new restaurant in our community. How do we respond? Likely, we tell someone about our dining experience. We talk about the atmosphere, the excellent service, the generous portions, and, of course, the delicious apple pie! So, you see, giving testimony is as easy as apple pie! And we need not be afraid because if we are open—if we are willing—the Holy Spirit will give us the words that we need to share the good things God is doing in our lives and in the world around us. In its most basic form, evangelism is simply telling others about the hope we have for tomorrow. It is about inviting others to the Table so that they may taste and see that the Lord is good.
As recipients of God’s great love through Jesus, we do not have to look far to see God at work. The peace, hope, joy, and love of God are writ large all around us. And the Spirit is constantly on the move, creating and calling us to pay attention and then, to share our experience with others. Come and dine and then, go and tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born. You see, it is as easy as apple pie. Can I get a witness? Amen!
(Let us keep silence.)
Cover Art “The Presentation” by Ira Thomas @ https://www.catholicworldart.com, used by permission; Music CCLI 20016020/13
[i] Rev. Sarah Bolhofner @ https://www.northcreektoday.org/blogs?author=5630f41ce4b092885154362d
[ii] Canadian Presbyterian Church Resourse: Rev. Dr. Ross Lockhart @ file:///C:/Users/revho/Downloads/Equipping-For-EM_Aug2017%20(1).pdf