An American classic, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” was a mid-19th-century African-American spritual passed down orally for who knows how many years. It first appeared in a collection called New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro by John W. Work in 1907.

Passionate about lyricising the oral folk hymns of African-American culture, Work might have been the first to write the song down, but never took credit for its creation. Following the publication, the Fisk Jubilee Singers became the first-ever all-African-American group to travel the country singing these hymns as originally intended.

“Go Tell It on the Mountain” was immediately popular, but it didn’t become a Christmas staple until years later when popularized by many artists and groups in the 20th century. We can enjoy it today because of the work of this academic and music enthusiast, John Wesley Work, as well as the group of singers who were willing to travel and perform to raise money for their university.

A Christmas song to many of us now, it was a plain-old gospel song when first recorded, with lyrics that many of us have never heard:

Go tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.
When I was a seeker
I sought both night and day
I asked the Lord to help me
And he showed me the way
Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
Our Jesus Christ is born
He made me a watchman
Upon a city wall
And if I am a Christian
I am the least of all
Go tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go tell it on the mountain
Our Jesus Christ is born
With these lyrics and the familiar Christmas melody in mind, let’s remember them this holiday season. The song we sing in church is often the story of Christmas. The shepherds and the angels, the birth of Jesus. But this Sabbath, and this season, let’s remember the rest of the words, the rest of the story.
Jesus wasn’t just born on Christmas, He was and is a helper to us now.
We are not just His children, we are His watchman.
He’s placed us on a city wall, and though He placed us there, we are the least of all.
We are not the star. Christmas is not about us, but we know who it’s about.
Jesus is the reason for the season, but He’s also the reason for our very existence. I hope this Sabbath, you can remember that Christmas is not the only time we should “tell it on the mountain.” We should tell the story of Jesus all day every day to as many people as possible. God help us to remember.
If you’re interested in a special blessing this Sabbath, check out “Go Tell it On the Mountain” by Mahalia Jackson. Happy Sabbath!