Posted by: rcottrill | November 11, 2013

Go Tell It on the Mountain

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Words:  John Wesley Work, Jr. (b. Aug. 6, 1872; d. Sept. 7:1925)
Music: traditional melody

Wordwise Hymns (John Work)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: John Work was, among other things, a music historian who sought to preserve the traditional music of African America. The refrain of this carol had been sung for many years in the Appalachian Mountains, but the words of the stanzas had been lost by the time of John Wesley Work, Jr. He added stanzas of his own, and published the song in 1907, in his book Folk Songs of the American Negro.

Work graduated from Fisk University with a Masters degree, and later taught Latin and Greek there. It became the custom for the students at Fisk to gather early Christmas morning, before sunrise, and walk from building to building singing this carol.

The imagery of the refrain is found in the Word of God in several places. It pictures runners or heralds, in ancient times, carrying important news to various communities, even crossing mountains to bear the tidings afar. Notice how, in the biblical use of the imagery, there is a background of release from slavery and justice for the oppressed. These themes appealed to those enslaved in nineteenth century America.

1) “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isa. 52:7; cf. 40:9-10).

Here is the spreading of the joyful news that the Jews are returning from exile. And, though the return from captivity in Babylon was a foreshadowing, the prophecy here also points to the final gathering of Israel from worldwide dispersion at the second coming of Christ to reign–“when all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (vs. 10).

2) “Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off” (Nah. 1:15).

When the city of Jerusalem was besieged by Assyria, King Hezekiah took the crisis situation to the Lord, and God delivered them (II Chron. 32:1-22), and in this second text is the announcement of Assyria’s doom (focusing on Nineveh, the capital), and a resumption of normal life in Jerusalem. Again, it points forward to Israel’s final deliverance under her Messiah King.

3) “As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’” (Rom. 10:15).

In this last text, the Apostle Paul borrows the Old Testament imagery to picture the proclamation of the gospel of grace in his own time. “And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:14, 17). The birth of Christ is a part of this good news.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

CH-1) While shepherds kept their watching
O’er silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light.

CH-3) Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That blessèd Christmas morn.

When we sing carols and Christmas hymns to mark the birth of Christ, when we hold services and pageants, when we send Christmas cards and do other things, we are, as Christians, once again assuming the role of the ancient heralds and announcing the good news of the Saviour’s coming.

Through Christ, “God sent us salvation.” As John puts it, “we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world” (I Jn. 4:14). In effect, the angels were the first heralds of the good news (Lk. 2:8-14), and we are to carry on their work today.

Think of some of the characteristics of a herald (or “ambassador,” II Cor. 5:20) for Christ.

¤ A herald has to have pertinent knowledge, news to share.
¤ A herald has to be obedient to the One who sends him (or her).
¤ A herald should recognize the difficulty of the task (the mountains), being willing to sacrifice to accomplish it, and trusting in the Lord for His grace.
¤ A herald should reflect the nature of the news being carried–in this case sharing the gospel with joyful enthusiasm.

1) What are some things that make the coming of Christ good news, worthy to be shared?

2) What are some ways Christians can share the good news at Christmas time?

Wordwise Hymns (John Work)
The Cyber Hymnal


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