It is fascinating that we grow up singing songs, carols and hymns without fully knowing the story behind the words. A beautiful song like God Tell it on the Mountain is often sung during our Christmas worship services and although the words are easy enough to interpret, there is a remarkable story behind the words:
Go tell it on the mountain, over
the hills and everywhere;
go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.
While shepherds kept their watching, Over silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens, There shone a holy light:
The hymn has its origins in the slave communities of the deep South in America. It is believed to have been composed by a humble slave who expressed his innermost thoughts in the words of a song. He would have been illiterate, yet would have held onto the incredible stories of Jesus’ birth, retold ever Christmas. With no opportunity of visiting Bethlehem in real life, he imagined a scene that transcended his own pain and suffering, and called others to pass on the message of hope and peace.
Many of the spiritual songs like Go Tell It On the Mountain could have been lost to our ears, if it weren’t for people like John Work and his son John Wesley Work Jnr. As a family, they were instrumental in saving numerous songs from this era and subsequently compiled many of the African-American spirituals into famous collections.
John Work was the driving force behind his local church choir and he used their remarkable singing gifts to keep the music alive. The choir boasted a number of singers from the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who helped spread the popularity of these songs as they were given opportunity to travel the world. If it weren’t for this miracle, Go Tell It On the Mountains may have remained a local song, sung only on a small farm in rural Tennessee.
As Jane Schroeder says, “it is the spirit of the words that provides the song's real power. As an unknown, humble slave revealed his own prayers and faith, he had little knowledge that the inspiration he felt—probably the only thing of value he ever possessed—would touch millions with the news not only on the mountain, but “over the hills and everywhere.”
We are challenged to remember that the Good News of Christ’s birth transcends our circumstances and the present sufferings we face. There is always Hope where Jesus is found.
Living in Grace