Go Tell It On The Mountains

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, December 26, 1999
Advent Celebration


Isaiah 52:7-15 How beautiful upon the mountains

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.

Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the Lord. But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him--his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Matthew 18-23 The birth of Jesus

The birth of Jesus the Christ took place in this way: When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will name him Emmanuel," which means, "God with us."

Matthew 17:1- 8 The transfiguration of Jesus

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!"

When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, overcome with fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying "Get up and do not be afraid." When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Arcana Coelestia #6435.15 Mountains and hills

"Mountains and hills" mean different kinds of heavenly and spiritual love, since they are places that rise up above the earth, and places that rise up high symbolize things that relate to heaven--and in the highest sense, things that relate to the Lord. "The land of Canaan" means the Lord's heavenly kingdom, so everything in that land has a spiritual meaning--its mountains and hills meaning the kinds of things that are high. For when the most ancient people, who belonged to the heavenly church, went up a mountain, the idea of height came to mind, and from height, the idea of what was holy, since Jehovah or the Lord was said to live in the most high places, and also because in the spiritual sense "height" means the goodness of love.


How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7)

I can't resist repeating a conversation that took place in the car yesterday afternoon as we were driving toward our second Christmas at my parents' place. Chris (4) spoke up and said, "Christmas is not just about toys. It's about love." Caleb (almost 3) quickly added "and presents!" Chris persisted: "No, it's not just about presents, it's about love." Caleb, always ready with an answer, came back with, "I love to open presents."

That just about sums up both the beauty and the paradox of Christmas. Christmas is about love--and about presents. And for all our hand-wringing about over-commercializing Christmas, spending too much on stuff, and so on, underneath it all even the presents are about love. The wise men from the East brought the baby Jesus presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And though our modern Christmas gift-giving is a relatively recent Christmas tradition, it does have those Biblical roots from Matthew's account of Jesus' birth.

Perhaps we do sometimes go overboard on the material side of Christmas. However, I believe that even this is a result of our searching for love, and for ways to express our love to one another. Paradoxically, in our culture it seems that when we have a hard time expressing our love to one another directly, we often go even more strongly toward using material things--gifts--as messengers of our love.

This year, with Christmas on a Saturday, our family celebrations are bracketed on both sides by church services. This gives us a perfect opportunity to lift our minds and hearts above the material side of Christmas and remember the source of all our family celebrations: the love of God that is shown to us in the best gift of all: the birth of the Lord Jesus.

That is what today's readings are all about. And the hymn that we just sang echoes those stories:

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

Swedenborg helps us to understand what this is all about when he tells us that the high places of mountains and hills correspond to the inner high places of heavenly and spiritual love. In another place, he tells us how angels and spirits relate to mountains and hills:

"Mountains" symbolize heaven, so they symbolize the goodness of love. This meaning comes from the other life. Mountains, hills, rocks, valleys, and many other things appear there just as on earth. And on the mountains there are people who live in heavenly love, on the hills those who live in spiritual love, on the rocks those who live in faith, and in the valleys those who have not yet been lifted up to the goodness of love and faith. . . . Because these things appear in the other life and symbolize these realities, they have the same meaning in the Bible. (Arcana Coelestia #10438)

Here's a translation of what Swedenborg is saying: People and angels who live in "heavenly (or celestial) love" are those who love the Lord above all else--who have the Lord not just in their minds, but in their hearts, and are moved by that love to love everyone around them, deeply and fully. This state of being is the mountain height of human life.

People and angels who are in "spiritual love" are those who put the neighbor--other people--first. Their love tends not to be centered quite as much in their heart as in their head, which tells them that loving others is the way to have happiness among all people. The Lord is present in them as well, but not quite as fully and consciously. These uplifted hills of mutual concern and love are where many of us live in our better moments, in which we can think of others first, an ourselves afterwards.

We have all experienced the rocks of the kind of faith that does not put love first. Those who say that it is what we believe that saves us, and not the way we live, can become very dogmatic about their faith. Sometimes when they are "witnessing" to us, we feel more like we're having rocks thrown at us than that we're having the Lord's love expressed to us. And I think that if we are honest, we'll all admit that sometimes we approach one another with hard heads rather than with open hearts.

The valleys are where we live when we haven't yet gotten the idea that it is love and faith that make life truly human and truly worth living. When we think that Christmas is only about presents, and do not realize that behind all the material trappings there is a love that runs deeper than anything we can ever imagine, then we are stuck in the spiritual valleys of materialism. Our deeper and higher selves are undeveloped--yet waiting to be born.

The Christmas story helps to guide us out of the valleys of worldliness and up onto the mountains of love. Three of Jesus' disciples, Peter, James, and John, had a tremendous experience of the true meaning of the mountain of the Lord's love. Having been with him in the ordinary valleys of human experience, they went up the mountain with him and saw something of the glory of the Lord, which was unseen within him all along. There, on the mountain, "he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light." And the words they heard from above tell us something of the meaning of this transfiguration: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!"

This glorious Jesus they were experiencing with their spiritual eyes opened is the same Jesus who was born so simply and quietly on that first Christmas. When our minds are running in their common, everyday paths, we may not realize what depths of love and wisdom were and are present in that divine being who has been born to us.

When we do raise our minds up to the mountains of God's love, then we can also see with the eyes of our minds and hearts what the disciples saw. We can see Jesus of Nazareth transformed into Immanuel: God With Us. We can feel the warmth and light of the spiritual sun--the warmth of love and the light of enlightenment--shining within us. We can feel the Lord warming us from the inside out, and moving us to show to one another the same love that he shows to us. We can feel the brilliant light of the Lord shining through his words and his teachings, showing us how to express this love to one another.

When we raise our minds above the valleys of the material side of Christmas, then we can know the true and deep joy of the Gospel according to Christopher: Christmas is not just about toys. It's about love. Amen.