Go Tell it on the Mountain

Go Tell it on the Mountain

Service from UU Montclair

December 24, 2020 7 PM

“Go Tell it on the Mountain”

A Lessons and Carols Christmas Eve

“Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” 

 – Washington Irving

Introduction to the Opening Hymns – 

Markus Grae-Hauck

We gather tonight in the sanctuary of worship – committed to the communal celebration of Christmas Eve. We have learned how to be distant and yet in moments, we do feel incredibly close. This in itself is a miracle, or a wonder – something to ponder in our own hearts. 

My name is Markus Grae-Hauck; my pronouns are he, him, his. I serve as the director of our music ministries, and it is my honor to welcome you here, to this sanctuary, on this Christmas Eve. And as we do on Sunday mornings, we begin by singing. O Come All Ye Faithful, followed by O Little Town of Bethlehem – both invitations to be held by the spirit of this season. 

The songs tonight will be led by members of our own Chalice Choir. You may also see some unfamiliar faces. We have invited members from our sibling congregations in Morristown, Princeton, Cherry Hill, and Queens to join us, and so we are connected tonight across space and time.

Opening Hymns – #253 O Come All Ye Faithful (full choir); #246 O Little Town (Dana Moore)

Welcome – Rev. Anya & Intern Ali

Intern Ali: Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever age, identity, history, ability, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation – you are welcome to bring your full self here. 

Rev. Anya: On this Christmas Eve we are all huddled somewhere outside of the privileged space, the longed for space of rest and comfort. Like Mary and Joseph, who learned that there was no room at the Inn, we have found our respite beyond the walls of our sanctuary. Pushed out not by an inconsiderate innkeeper but by the clarion call of our own conscience – to hold the health and well-being of our community above our own yearning to be together. …

Intern Ali: But if there was ever a night when a miracle was possible – perhaps, dear ones, this is the night.

Rev. Anya: Perhaps we will feel the mystery of our gathering, of our connection. 

Intern Ali: Perhaps an awe will wash over us.

Rev.  Anya: Perhaps our homes, like the stable where the baby Jesus was born, will be made sacred – named also, as holy ground. 

Chalice Lighting – Rev. Scott, Intern Ali

Intern Ali: We gather and we light a flame to guide us – 

Rev. Scott: A chalice light, the symbol of the Unitarian Universalist Faith, 

A light in the darkness, 

A light to guide our journey home. 

Underscoring of “O Holy Night” begins (Amy Crafton – clarinet)

Intern Ali: And we light a chalice because it reminds us that this is a holy night. 

(Rev. Scott Lights the chalice, pauses and passes it out of the frame to stage left.) 

Rev. Scott: This is a holy night because: 

We are here, joined in our common humanity, preparing to listen to old stories and familiar carols, recognizing that these are our stories, and our carols too.

Intern Ali: This is a holy night because: 

We have been the frightened young couple whose lives are about to change forever through no intention of their own.

Rev. Scott: This is a holy night because: 

We have known what it is like to be excluded, to be told there is no room at the inn for us.

Intern Ali: This is a holy night because: 

We too have been the shepherds who are stunned into silence by awe, fearful of what we are being asked to do next.

Rev. Scott: This is a holy night because: 

We are the wayfarers on a journey that has an ending we do not know.

Intern Ali: This is a holy night because: 

We know the promise of looking into the eyes of a newborn babe.

Because we recognize the divine within that new life; Emmanuel, God with us.

Rev. Scott: Because we know that we cannot make it through this life alone:

Because we too have had visits from wise ones who tell us – Be Not Afraid. 

This is a holy night because

We are blessed to share it together.

Intern Ali: Please rise now in body or spirit and sing with us, “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

Carol — #231 Angels We Have Heard on High (Ami Brabson)

1st Lesson – Luke 2, adapted – Judith Hogan and Laura Anthony

Laura Anthony: Our first lesson comes from the gospel of Luke. Throughout our telling you will see images depicting this wondrous tales. The images of the holy family are artists renderings, and we offer gratitude to the artists Janet McKenzie… whose visions of these times serve perhaps to widen our memory of this well studied story. 

Judith Hogan – In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…. 

[So] Joseph … went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.

He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 

So she gave birth to her firstborn son, 

and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them at the inn.

Laura Anthony – In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 

Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood before them, 

and the glory of the Lord shone around them, 

and they were terrified. 

But the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for see—

I bring you good news of great joy for all the people:

For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, 

who is the Messiah, …. 

Judith Hogan – This will be a sign for you: 

you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 

~ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace, goodwill among all people!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 

Laura Anthony – So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

When they saw this, they made known what the Angel told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Offering – Rev. Anya 

Mary treasured these words. The shepherds glorified and praised. What do we do? 

Tonight, we are invited to let these words in – to let them speak to us of a mystery, a possibility, a love inherent in life. And if we let them in, perhaps we remember all we have to be grateful for, and then perhaps, perhaps we are moved to give back. 

The collection this evening will go in its entirety to the care of the fragile, the undernourished, the disenfranchised and the oppressed – both within and beyond this congregation.  Earlier this congregational year, among other acts of care, we used the money we collected at last year’s Christmas Eve service to assist families beset by the challenges of our dual pandemics, we aided homeless friends with the means to wash, rest and eat, and we provided families with the means to care for their children. I say we, because this is the work we do together when we support the Care Fund, managed by the ministers of our congregation. Know that your gifts will be used appropriately and honorably.  The Christmas Eve Offering will now be collected. 

Hallelujah Chorus – UUCM Choir

2nd Lesson – Christmas Always Comes at Midnight, A. Powell Davies, adapted – Intern Ali, Rev. Scott, Rev. Anya

Rev. Anya – … in the darkest hour, there comes a light to those who sit in the darkness, and new hope to those who, in the wilderness, must walk beneath the shadow of death.

Will you join me now, in a time of silence, to be here together, held by the light. We hold this silence as this silence holds us. 


From silence, we move to sing.  

Written in 1849, the carol “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by the Unitarian minister Edwin Sears, was a response to the just concluded Mexican-American war.

Sears, a pacifist and a committed abolitionist, left us a call to peace and goodwill that we still need to hear.  Let your voices rise and sing out. 

Carol – #244 It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (Juliana Carr & Paul Lombardo)

3rd Lesson – Read by Laura Anthony

I share this reading adapted from Ernest H. Sommerfield, which contains questions people often ask Unitarian Universalists this time of year …

Anthem – Go Tell It On The Mountain – African American spiritual, arr. Victor Johnson, – first written down as a carol by John Wesley Work, Jr. (sung by members of the UUCM Chalice Choir)

4th Lesson – Homily – Go Tell It On A Mountain

Go Tell it on a Mountain

Over the hills and everywhere

Go Tell it on a Mountain is an African American spiritual.

Like many of those old songs, its origin remains murky.

Some tales claim that freed slaves sang this, along with other freedom spirituals, once they learned about their emancipation.

The song as we know it was first written down by John Wesley Work, II, a black graduate of Fisk University.

John Work also studied at Harvard at the time when WEB DuBois was there, in the 1890’s.

Fisk, in Nashville, Tennessee, is one of the first and most prominent historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States.

John Work, who taught ancient Greek and Latin at Fisk, was also a master musician, composer, and arranger, who became one of the first serious collectors of spirituals and slave songs; 

It is because of him that so many of those songs live on to this day and are part of the American Songbook.

John Work led the Fisk Jubilee Singers, that world-famous singing group that not only kept the old musical traditions alive, but also promoted the beauty and necessity of Historically black colleges; the Jubilee Singers helped raise thousands of dollars for Fisk University while spreading the beauty of slave songs and spirituals to the world.

Go Tell it on a Mountain

The song suggests triumph, joy, and the urgency to proclaim that there is some very good news to share.

This song has manifested in many ways over the years 

The great black prophet James Baldwin named his 1953 autobiographical novel Go Tell it on a Mountain, a gripping story of forbidden love and the suffocating tendency of misguided religion.

African American theologian James Cone claims “Go Tell It On a Mountain” suggests “the conquering King, the crucified Lord . . . has come to bring peace and justice to the dispossessed of the land.

That is why the recently freed slaves wanted to ‘go tell it on a mountain’: something they had prayed for, and thought unlikely to happen, had come to pass.”

And I cannot help but wonder what emancipation felt like?

Imagine what kind of misery must one have suffered in order to not just simply be glad for good news – but to be shocked into such deep joy that one climbs a mountain, assured that the divine must favor them, at least on this day, and proclaim at the top of their lungs, that newfound joy, grace and justice has come  …

I cannot help but wonder, “For what would you climb to the mountaintop to shout your good news of joy, grace and justice to the world?”

The word “Gospel” is derived from words meaning, “The Good News.”

In the Gospel of Luke we encounter a strange scene indeed.

The holy host – a multitude of angels of the Lord – are so excited by the birth of Jesus that they have to tell someone; so they share it with shepherds tending their flock by night in the hillside outside Bethlehem.

Let us consider that for a moment.

If this news was so important, why only share with a couple shepherds on a dusty hillside?

Why not shout it from the highest hilltop in the city?

Why not proclaim to the kings and the priests?

Perhaps we are to conclude that this miracle of a birth with divine implication brings especially good news to the humble people of this world.

~ The powerful have their joys, their safety, their riches –

– The shepherds – they have a rather predictable and ‘lowly’ lot in life – but the angels visit the shepherds.

Indeed, the scriptures often show the powerful seem to have no time for this good news.

These tidings of good will for all people are dismissed by the elites … it even frightens them.

The innkeeper has no room.

Herod, the King of Judea, fears this birth so much he seeks to have the child killed;

Priests and politicians reject and suppress the good news – and yet the shepherds, the lowly of that land – yes, even the animals – seem to recognize that something magnificent has happened. 

The only people of learning and status who glorify the birth of Jesus are ‘Magi’ from a faraway land.

The gospels relate “A story of priests and temples where God was a commodity, and truth a joke grown stale.”

The powerful had sold their souls for fame, fortune and influence; they ignore the holy that has literally come to earth to show a new way to live with authenticity, in covenantal love – a path of integrity in the face of evil and terror: a divine contrast to the indifference of arrogant power.

And if this were not Christmas Eve,  one might be tempted to conclude that I might be speaking about our times, yes? ~ 

~ And, well, of course, I am …

We tell and retell these stories because they are timeless.

What I find most transformative in Luke’s telling of Jesus’ birth is contained in these three words –  “Be Not Afraid!”

Humble Shepherds, out at night on a dark and dusty hillside – nodding off to sleep, no doubt – taking turns keeping watch over the flocks, and then ~ Boom – here comes a multitude of Angels, with the bright light of the glory of the lord shining all around them, illuminating the midnight sky.

And those angels – they – they start to sing … 

And the angels calm the shepherds –  “Be Not Afraid”

~ Don’t know about you, but I would have been trembling, sweating and breathless in fear – 

~ Have you ever had an experience that, even if it filled you with joy and wonder, made you tremble also?

That is often the way with spiritual experiences. 

We feel a fear known as awe; 

when given a glimpse of another possible reality, another world having poked through the veil and shining before us, offering gifts we only dreamt possible somewhere else, to someone else – but here, it is offered to us!

Of course we shed tears – tears of joy, disbelief, and awe at having our prayers for deliverance answered.

Jesus’ birth being first announced to the most humble residents of the regions – shepherds – reminds us that the holy prefers and privileges the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, the persecuted, 

“Bring to me your poor and oppressed,” the holy proclaims, “they will have glory, and be united with the divine as well.”

When such gifts are bestowed – a chance that our dignity is affirmed, our promise enabled – of course we rush to the mountaintop in tears to tell the world the grace we that has come.

The birth of the baby Jesus in Luke suggests something new has come into the world. 

The promise of a Messiah had been told in Jewish scriptures for centuries.

In Judaic thought, the Messiah refers to an earthly king anointed to restore Israel to greatness …

However, Luke refers to Jesus also as: Savior; the Lord; and the son of God – all attributes claimed by the Roman Emperor; Caesar also claimed to be born of a virgin!

Here the Gospels show themselves as commenting on the social contract; you see, the Gospels are deeply political – they claim the true kingship belongs not to Caesar, but to this humble babe born in a stable, to all souls.

In the story, King Herod is unable to decipher where baby Jesus lies – the divine refuses to enlighten the earthly tyrant of the baby’s whereabouts…

I don’t know how else to interpret the birth narrative of Jesus except as echoing warnings of the Hebrew Prophets that the poor, the widow, the infant; the sick and the orphan deserve the protection of the state and of all of us;  indeed, the poor and the marginalized are to be elevated; 

Is this not what Jesus means when he says the first shall be last?

This leveling of status, this call for power to be shared; for the bounty and fruits of this life to be available to all – this is something worth shouting from every mountaintop.

And the story – it begins with love – 

a baby has come into the world, born to a young couple …

The almighty sends a child who inspires wonder, 

and we are moved to protect it, like any newborn.

We wonder how he will grow up, with all this fanfare at his birth.

Perhaps we need a fresh human face flushed with integrity and power to remind us that greatness is possible, even in the most unlikely of places, from the most ‘unlikely’ of people.

The baby reminds us we have what we need to overcome oppression and lies; 

Shows us there is a way of living that exemplifies eternal truths of love and faith and honor and compassion, 

Shows us  it is never too late to begin anew, teaching us that we have power beyond our greatest imagining

Beloveds, as distracting and anxious as our times can be, we still can touch truth – Simple, deep truths, like:

Everyone deserves dignity and protection –

Everyone ~ Full stop. Universal. All Souls.

This Universalism is worth shouting from the mountaintop and in the village square, on the radio, even on the TV –

So let us climb mountaintops,

where we can resound the truth for all with ears to hear,

Proclaiming, Be Not Afraid:

The truth will prevail when it is championed by the good, the mighty and the brave.

Beauty will lift us out of despair when we are granted time to open our eyes and wonder;

No one deserves to be hounded for the way they love, the way they pray, or the way they vote; indeed ~

All people deserve to partake in the bounty of our economy

All people deserve care for their health and spirit

All people deserve our grace and our blessing

All people marginalized deserve reparation;

All people deserve to raise their children without the fear they will be shot or abused or denied a good education.

All people deserve the benefit of our doubt, our concern, our witness, and our protection …

Let us thereby protect and preserve human worth, 

hailing justice and the beloved community as hallmarks of a society worthy of our best – worthy of a child divine.

This Universalist Christmas message is worth climbing any mountain to proclaim –

So climb, and use your voice to sing these truths –  

And Be Not Afraid!

Your conviction and the sincerity of your heart will be your amplifier, and when you tell it on that mountain, shepherds and bankers and policemen and soldiers and baristas, indeed all with ears to hear will rise up and follow the way of life, the way of integrity, the way of truth, atonement, and compassion … 

the only foundation of a community worthy of the title “beloved.”


Reflection Q – will you reflect with me?

So what would you climb a mountain to proclaim to the world? What, for you, is the good news?

Join us in singing “There’s a Star in the East”, made into a carol from an African American Spiritual, 

rise at home as you are able, and sing with us …

Carol – #255 There’s a Star in the East (Ginny & Steve Crooks)

Christmas Prayer – Rev. Anya

Rise up shepherds and follow. 


Join me in a spirit of prayer. 

Holy of our understanding. Beyond our naming – 

God that we call by the names that resonate in our hearts – 

God of mercy, justice, love, 

God that is a liberator and a defender of the right and the good. 

We proclaim on this night – that we will rise up, ready, prepared again to follow. To follow the light that won’t be swallowed up by the darkness, 

To follow the cries of the babe born to a cold bed on a cold night that will still, will still save us all. 

To follow the call of our conscience, amidst dual pandemics – 

To follow the call to protect our dear ones with our vigilance; 

The call to uproot injustice in its every guise. 

Rise up. 

Rise up with a full heart and a hearty breath of life and go tell it on that mountain – that something beautiful is still here, that it has never left us, not even on those darkest of days and nights – – and that on this night, like every night when we give ourselves to wonder and awe, it has been born again – to hearts and minds ready for that hallelujah. 

Rise up and follow. 

And to proclaim your commitment, 

And to announce the light that is still here, that has never left us, we will light candles in the silence – – in this space of shared awe. 

So we ask, one more time, as you light, give everything to the wonder. Don’t speak any words. Allow the silence and the light to hold us… 

(Light a candle and hold it in front of your face. Others in the sanctuary do the same.) 


Rev. Scott – Go Tell it on a mountain. All people deserve the benefit of our doubt, our concern, our witness, and our protection …

Intern Ali – Go Tell it on a mountain

All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect

Rev. Anya – Be Not Afraid!

We know the promise shining in the eyes of a newborn babe, because we recognize the divine within that new life

Intern Ali – There is too much misery and damage afoot for us to wait for another god-child to be born before we build the beloved community

Rev. Anya – So let us rise up and follow the way of life, the way of integrity, the way of truth, atonement, and compassion … 

And build here, now

Rev. Scott – So – Go tell it on a Mountain

The truth will prevail when it is championed by the good, the powerful and the brave,

Intern Ali – This is a Universalist Christmas message

Rev. Anya – May joy find its way to you and your family this season

Rev. Scott – And may you find solace and inspiration in the silence of this holy night so you can bring your voice to the Mountaintop with wisdom, fire and conviction

Blessed be, and Amen

Extinguishing the Candles – Rev. Scott

Howard Thurman – “The Work of Christmas”

Postlude – #245 Joy to the World (sung by members of the UUCM Chalice Choir)