A Tale of Two Songs

Scripture:  I Corinthians 1:27-28 (NASB) - …the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen… so that no man may boast before God.  

“Go Tell It On the Mountain” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen:” Their emergence as classic beloved Christmas songs (from last month) could never have been anticipated by those who sang them a couple of centuries ago!  The words of “Go Tell It..” proclaim with bold humility its creator’s single-minded pursuit of the Savior, whose arrival was greatly understood to be newsworthy of spreading far and wide, “…over the hills and everywhere!”  This servant knew the Lord as his Helper and his Guide.  His words suggest a wholehearted embrace of his role as “a watchman upon a city wall” heralding the arrival of the Sin-Bearer, Christ Jesus! The broad dissemination of “Go Tell It…” was accomplished initially by oral tradition and later, around the 1870s, by an African-American church choir director and scholar named John Wesley Work (and members of his family).  Without his intense zeal in publishing this and other Negro spirituals, that unique body of Christian music may very well have been lost.

The popularity of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” first sung by English peasants in the sixteenth century, grew out of widespread apathy and dislike among the “commoners” toward the Christian music of that day, which was largely sung in Latin!  The tones were dark and melancholy, devoid of inspiration and joy!  These poor folks, however, lacked the influence to change the church music “status quo.” Interestingly, the first line of the song, popular among non-aristocratic audiences for hundreds of years before its 19th century publication, originally meant ‘God make you mighty, gentlemen...’
 
Yet, in the wake of a “quiet rebellion,” in which they began writing their own religious folk songs, many early Christmas carols were created.  The joyously inspiring words of “God Rest Ye...” convey the writer’s excellent understanding of the Savior’s birth and its significance to fallen man from every economic stratum.

Prayer: Dear Father, even in Your choice of what the world regards as foolish, weak, base, and/or despised, You reveal the beauty and perfection of Your will and Your way.  You demonstrate this principle even in the songs we’ve come to sing in celebration of Your majesty and excellencies.  We praise You, in Jesus’ name, Amen!

(by  Denise Diggs)

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