“Go Tell it on the Mountain” is one of my favorite non-traditional Christmas songs. I am happy to sing it year-round. The history of the song goes back to the American Civil War and is a spiritual song reflecting on the suffering of African American slaves. It’s a reflection of their experiences and offers hope and faith despite their position of being so low on the social ladder of America.
Another group of individuals who were also at the bottom of the social ladder was the shepherds on the first Christmas. Shepherds had a reputation for stealing and lying, as they often took what they needed to continue surviving in fields with their sheep. As a young child, I thought running sheep in fields was a wonderful concept. Learning that they were actually scoundrels, was a significant departure from the high status I personally thought that they had. Their scandalous lifestyles is partly why when angels first appear to the shepherds. Angels coming to the lower echelon on the social ladder makes it such a remarkable part of the Christmas story.
It surprised me when I learned about the historic reputation of the shepherds.
Upon reflection, it did not surprise me that they were the chosen ones to deliver the message of the birth of the Messiah. Jesus’ whole life was focused on coming to the people whom others did not see as worthy. These ‘lowly’ shepherds were about to be witnesses to the greatest birthday in history.
During the song, we hear the lyrics reflecting that the angels told the shepherds to go and see. They went and saw. The song does not say that they were told to go tell anything. Yet, they were so moved by the experience they could not help but give their testimony. They went and “told.” The next amazing part of that is that the shepherds had no idea that the baby they were celebrating would die on the cross for all of mankind’s sins.
This song’s beauty continues when it references telling the news “on the mountain.” Bethlehem is located in the mountains of Judea. The news would have been initially told to other shepherds on the hillsides. Also, a remarkable detail of the story of Jesus’ birth.
The wonderment of this song is that we don’t have to confine our telling of the good news to the mountaintop. We can literally share it anywhere in the world at any time.
A simple ‘non-traditional’ Christmas song, which tells the story of American slaves as well as one of a barn-yard birth of a Savior. One that I love to sing year-round with a beautiful message of salvation to be shared at any time.
This week, let’s make it a point to “Go tell it on a mountain!”