“Go Tell It On the Mountain!”   ( Luke 2: 8 -14)

by | Dec 5, 2021 | Sermon Text | 0 comments

I grew up in the era of great Broadway musicals – The Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, West Side Story and the like. I must admit that as a child I had little use for these extravaganzas because they seemed so false at heart. Nobody in real life suddenly stops and breaks into song. Nobody stops in the middle of real life and erupts in heartfelt music. Or so I thought. But the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve come to realize that there are moments in life, moments of exuberance, moments of pain, moments of joy, despair or anguish, when suddenly a tune swells up from within and you find yourself singing. So it is this morning, when my heart is so full of gladness and gratitude that I cannot help but sing,

My Lord, what a morning!

My Lord, what a morning!

My Lord, what a morning,

When the stars begin to fall!

The truth is, a fair amount of Biblical proclamation comes forth through music. The Christmas story, in particular, is framed like a musical. Every key episode in the story of the Messiah’s anticipation and birth comes accompanied by music and poetry. For example you have heard Isaiah chapter forty’s prophetic cries of “Comfort, Comfort, my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” But have you ever stopped to ponder the circumstances in which that word was uttered? The northern tribes of Israel had been conquered by Assyria, vanishing forever from human history. Judah, the southern Hebrew kingdom, had lasted another century, only to be overrun by Babylon, whose forces razed Jerusalem, destroyed Solomon’s temple and exiled the nation’s leadership. It seemed as if the idea of a Jewish nation had been lost forever. Amidst that atmosphere of heartbreak, humiliation, estrangement and despair, a prophetic poet breaks out into song.

Every mountain shall be lowered, [sung to Joy to the World by Alan Parker]

And every valley raised.

Rough places shall be smoothed,

Our pain shall soon be soothed,

God’s promise shall prove sure,

God’s promise shall prove pure

And a Savior, a Savior, will come to us!

Don’t worry, children, God’s comfort nears!

Great dawn will surely break!

All Evil will soon wither,

Deliverance soon comes hither.

God’s Word shall speak anew,

God’s Word shall soon prove true,

And a Savior, a Savior, will come to us!

The prophet’s poetry came to life. Seemingly invincible Babylon fell to God’s strange instrument, the Persian king Cyrus. Cyrus conquered Babylon and freed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, rebuild their Temple and reclaim their country. But of course, that freedom was short-lived. Alexander the Great and his Greek troops conquered all of Palestine, including Jerusalem, only to have his seemingly invincible empire soon give way to another, the Romans. To demonstrate Rome’s power and to enrich his tax rolls, one of its Caesars, Augustus, called for a general Palestinian census in which every Jewish male was required to go to his hometown and register. Among those traveling to the Jerusalem area were a young man and his young, very pregnant wife. But the child this young woman carried in her womb was not just any child. He was the very Messiah promised by that prophet so long ago.

Nine months before, an angel had appeared to this young girl and informed her that she would bear God’s anointed Savior. No doubt the young woman was petrified by the news, prompting the angel to comfort her, saying, “Do not fear.” The angel could not help but break into poetry that’s best understood when sung:

Christ shall be the Most High Son, [to the tune of Hark the Herald by Alan Parker]

Of His Rule there’ll be no end.

You shall bear the Chosen One,

God to man has proved a Friend.

My dear child you’ve found God’s favor,

Of your faith we’ll sing forever.

Glory to the Lord Most High!

In your womb, great joy draws nigh.

Glory to the Lord Most High!

In your womb, great joy draws nigh.

The Son you bear shall reign eternal,

The babe you rear shall fail us not.

Take your part in God’s great story,

Know that glory is your lot.

My dear child, God’s Christ is given

That the world may know true living!

Glory to the Lord Most High!

In your womb great joy draws nigh.

Glory to the Lord Most High!

In your womb great joy draws nigh.

Of course, the fact that God has chosen this ordinary, obscure peasant girl of no particular significance to bear the foretold, long-awaited Anointed One, is part of the mystery and wonder of God’s amazing grace. No one is more aware of this great irony of God’s blending the majestic and the mundane than Mary herself. And though the angel’s announcement scares her to the core, though this honor astounds her, her fear gives way to joy, her confusion spawns ecstatic praise. Lo and behold, she breaks into song,

My soul magnifies the Lord my God. [Sung to Amazing Grace by Brianna Pylant]

My spirit overflows with glee.

For God has given the world a gift,

And that gift will come through me.

God’s ways are not our ways, that’s clear,

His gifts come as pure surprise.

The high and the mighty will come to naught,

But the meek shall surely rise.

The Lord has promised all the world

The chance to receive God’s grace.

And when this Savior comes to earth,

I’ll be first to see his face.

Perplexing though this blessing is, Mary and her fiancé Joseph agree to be agents in the birth and raising of the Christ. The idea frightens them, of course, but God elicits from them acts of profound faith and trust. So it is they find themselves in crowded Bethlehem trying to comply with Caesar’s census decree when Mary goes into labor. A kindly innkeeper grants them the warmth and privacy of a manger, a cave, as the setting for the birth of their child.

Meanwhile, a group of shepherds were nearby keeping watch over their flocks by night. They were probably young, undoubtedly poor. Their vocation was considered so low in caste that their own religion had declared their job “unclean.” Their ceaseless interaction with animals rendered them ritually impure in the eyes of the religious establishment, unfit for inclusion in a righteous gathering. But in keeping with God’s elevation of the lowly to positions of prestige, and His astounding ethic of inclusion, who should appear to these poor, religiously unclean youngsters, but an angelic visitor who delivers to them the ecstatic announcement that the Savior of the world has been born in Bethlehem, and they would find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Then suddenly, more music breaks out; the messenger was joined by a heavenly choir singing joyously:

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Glory to God in highest heav’n! [sung by Dr. Kremer, Alan, and Brianna

Peace on Earth to All we sing to, to tune of Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee]

God’s great gift to earth is given!

Put away all sin and sadness,

Pure joy has been sent to earth!

Let the world erupt in gladness!

Celebrate your Savior’s birth!

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Go behold what God has done,

God has sent to you his mercy,

In the form of God’s own Son.

Go behold the baby Jesus,

See that what we say is true.

Find that babe in a lowly manger,

And know the Savior comes to you!

How could the shepherds not be on their way, when they found they were already on their feet dancing? So they made their way to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. And after they had worshiped the child, they made their way out into this sleepy hamlet near Jerusalem, glorifying and praising God. No doubt, in their exuberance, they couldn’t help but break into song!

Go, tell it on the mountain, [Dr. Kremer, Alan, and Brianna]

Over the hills and everywhere.

Go, tell it on the mountain,

That Jesus Christ is born!

While we shepherds kept our watching,

Over silent flocks by night,

Behold, throughout the heavens,

There shone a holy light.

Go, tell it on the mountain,

Over the hills and everywhere,

Go tell it on the mountain,

That Jesus Christ is born!

From that night on, the music of Christ’s story has never ceased to ring throughout the earth. The universal impact of Christ’s birth would be underscored by pagan astrologers from afar who sighted a celestial signal of God’s redemptive action and came bringing gifts of adoration.

The presence of these so-called wise men reminds us that this story of God’s is not for observers. To join the redemptive story each of us must claim the story for ourselves. You and I must accept the astounding but wondrous irony that the God of the universe desires that ordinary people like you and me claim our role in the living body of Christ. Each of us called to take our role in the eternal narrative of God’s redemption and join the chorus bent on proclaiming God’s Good News. To keep the music of Christ’s story resounding throughout all the earth, we must accept the shepherds’ role, come to worship the Christ, then go out into the world to sing, “Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!”

Dr. Wm. Richard Kremer, Mr. Alan Parker, Ms. Brianna Pylant and the children of Vineville Baptist
December 5, 2021, Hanging of the Green Sunday