No one knows who wrote the Christmas song, "Go Tell It On the Mountain," but we do know who saved it! Shortly after the Civil War an African American choir director in Nashville, Tennessee, by the name of John Wesley Work, believed that a new generation of African Americans needed to know and understand the deep spiritual roots of their ancestors which were expressed in the songs and spirituals that had come out of the days of slavery. In Nashville at the time was an African American singing group called the Fisk Jubilee Singers from Fisk College and several members of this group were also part of Work's church choir. Under his influence the Fisk Jubilee Singers began singing Negro spirituals, and they were able to take them to the world. The Jubilee Singers performed in England for Queen Victoria and in the White House for President Chester Arthur. Work passed on his passions for music and history to his son, John Wesley Work II, who with his brother, Frederick, began collecting a huge number of Negro folk songs, and they not only kept them from being lost, but also arranged them so that they could more easily be sung and performed. But they kept the lyrics unchanged, not wanting to lessen the dramatic impact of those songs born out of hardship and suffering.
"Go Tell It On the Mountain" was one of the very few Negro spirituals that had been written about Christmas. It was composed to capture the wonder of the shepherds on the night of Jesus' birth. In the 1880's the Fisk Jubilee singers introduced "Go Tell It On the Mountain" to the world, and it was well received, often moving people to tears and to their knees.
It was John Wesley Work III who took a special interest in "Go Tell It On the Mountain" and re-arranged it and added at least one stanza. In truth it is not known if he wrote these new stanzas or found them in his research. Written originally by an unknown slave this song was published in American Negro Songs and Spirituals in 1940 has provided heart-felt inspiration ever since.
This Sunday morning the Joy Belles and Friends will be performing a musical entitled "Go Sing It on the Mountain," which takes us from the prophecies about the coming of Jesus to His birth and to what it means for us. In preparation for our time together on this third Sunday of Advent let's read Matthew's account of Jesus' birth, Matthew 1:18-2:23.
1. What do you learn about Joseph at the time of the angel's announcement that he was to take a pregnant Mary as his wife? What do you envision he was like? (vv. 18-25)
* What do you imagine it was like for him to receive this kind of news? What questions do you think he would have had as this news settled in?
2. What was Jesus' mission in the world as it is revealed in His name (v. 21)?
* How does the world around you understand the place and work of Jesus in the world today?
* Why is it still relevant for Him to be one who saves us from our sins?
* What is the danger of sin?
* How does he save us from our sins?
3. Who are the "wise men" (2:1-12)?
* Where are they from and why did they come to Jerusalem?
* What is their role in this birth narrative?
4. What do you think is the role of Herod and the slaughter of the innocents in the story of Jesus' birth?
5. How do you think Joseph and Mary reacted to the angel's command to flee to Egypt?
* What do you think they thought about living in Egypt?
6. How many dreams did Joseph have that interrupted his life with Mary?
* How does Joseph respond to these interruptions?
* What do you think Joseph and Mary thought about their lives as they were moved about by messages from angels?
* What lessons can you draw from Joseph's experience with dreams or interruptions?
7. How many Old Testament prophecies does Matthew quote in 1:18-2:23? Why do you think he does this?
* What is the lesson for us here?
8. Think about this entire narrative surrounding the birth of Jesus. What do you learn about Jesus? Why do you think He came in this way? Why did He have to come this way?
* Why might the story of Jesus' birth be an encouragement to those who lived in slavery?
* Why is it an encouragement to you?
9. What one thing do you think the Lord would have you take away from this meditation?
10. What can you tell others about the good news of Jesus' birth?
God be with you!