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'Go Tell It On the Mountain'

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By Peter James (Dec 23, 2014)
Editor's note: There is no doubt that the theme of mercy can be found in many favorite Christmas carols. Here's the last of a four-part Advent series reflecting on the theme of mercy in some of our favorite carols:

Here at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass., I'm privileged to work with Br. John Paoletti, MIC, a seminarian with the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. Brother John recently told me something profound.

I was doing various tasks when someone got me involved in another project. After they left the office, I quipped, "Wow, I am distracting myself with tons of stuff … I gotta slow down and just do this one thing." Brother John's response, with a smile, was, "That's your job, being distracted with the needs of others."

There are so many different definitions of mercy that could be given, but I have always noticed that each definition of mercy reflects this single truth: Mercy is always thinking about the well being of others. Christ, in coming down from Heaven, saw our needs and took an active role in being our Redeemer. He did not wait for us to tell Him we needed help. Instead, He came immediately to be our Help.

Perhaps that is why in 1907, John W. Works III felt it best to publish the words to this old spiritual, "Go Tell It On the Mountain":

Go tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.


Does our heart fill with such joy from Jesus's birth that we could climb the highest of mountains to shout out that Jesus has, indeed, come to save us from our sins? The original song lyrics (sung by slaves and passed down to us) says "While shepherds kept their watching over silent flocks by night/ Behold throughout the heavens there shone a holy light." However, a lesser-known songwriter named Geoffrey M. Taylor wrote alternative lyrics that fit with Br. John's theme of "being distracted" with the needs of others:

He possessed no riches,
No home to lay his head;
He saw the needs of others,
And cared for them instead.


The life of mercy means to be distracted with caring for others no matter what I don't have. No one came to Jesus trying to fill their pots with gold; He had something much better and much deeper to give: Himself, His grace and love, and His life. Though we have no riches, we have ourselves to give to others, especially in conjunction with our personal relationship with Christ. Maybe this is the place for the well-worn cliché, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

He reached out and touched them,
The blind, the deaf, the lame;
He spoke and listened gladly
to anyone who came:


The life of mercy means to have a listening ear with gladness to heal the wounds of others. I used to think I had to have some magical, powerful words to impart to people to meet whatever problems they were facing. The problem was, many times my words fell on deaf ears. No one would listen, or they would tell me to be quiet. Then I realized, sometimes just listening to others is the healing balm they need. No one else would be willing to listen. Our Lord never turned anyone away who sought after Him with their heart. Today, we are His representatives to bring health to the blind, deaf, lame, and lonely.

Some turned away in anger,
with hatred in the eye;
they tried Him and condemned Him,
then led Him out to die.


The life of mercy is loving others with the truth, even as they are trying to kill you. Christmas is a powerful testament to the Child Jesus. However, while He was on earth, He did not remain a Child. Sometimes, all we want is a Jesus in the manger. Perhaps Jesus on the Cross is okay too … you know, He died for our sins. But what about a Jesus who gives us what we really need: Himself and His truth? Not everyone will receive Jesus' mercy and not everyone will receive His life.

Jesus is the Role Model for all pastors. Ministry is not just about having leadership skills, though it is important. Ministry and the life of mercy is loving people when they are at their best, at their worst, and while they are despising you in various ways behind your back. How in the world could I show mercy to someone I know who really hates me? It is not an easy process. I do know I have Jesus as my helper.

"Father, now forgive them,"
those were the words He said;
In three more days He was alive
and risen from the dead.

He still comes to people,
His life moves through the lands;
He uses us for speaking,
He touches with our hands:


The life of mercy means to continue the work that Jesus started for us. Christian, we have much work to do in this lonely barren land. Christ's ministry is a ministry of forgiveness, resurrection, and life.

After hearing this, it seems impossible or improbable to believe we can do everything that Jesus did! By ourselves, we can't do it all. But in our parishes, in our community, and in our churches and shrines — together with the community of believers, we can be the disciples of Christ that walk worthy of the Master's calling. If you are reading this and wondering how can you deepen your faith walk with Christ and increase in the life of mercy, we have a wonderful little pamphlet called Deeds of Mercy: A New Look at the Works of Mercy, which will help you to incorporate the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in your daily life. This pamphlet will do more than simply inform you about living a life of mercy; it will tell you the specific things you can do to show love toward others and fulfill Christ's commands to be merciful.

It is my hope and sincere desire this four-part series has given you a small glimpse and taste into what I like to refer to as the "mercy life." Christmas is about Jesus, the Merciful One, and His life, death, and resurrection is a picture of the greatest gift He gave us: eternal life!

For those who know Christ and are living a merciful life, continue to "tell it on the mountain" that Jesus Christ is born!

A terrific version of "Go Tell It On the Mountain" was sung by the late, great Odetta:



We invite you to read the other three parts of our four-part series:

Part One:
"Good King Wenceslas"

Part Two:
"Who Is He In Yonder Stall?"

Part Three:
"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"

Peter James is an administrative assistant for the Association of Marian Helpers in Stockbridge, Mass.

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