I don’t think I’ve ever sung or heard the song “Good King Wenceslas” in an Advent or Christmas worship service. After all, the song doesn’t mention Advent or Christmas. It doesn’t tell the story of Mary and Joseph, and there are no shepherds, angels, wise men, or star. There is no baby Jesus crying or not crying.
Instead the song tells the story of “King Wenceslas,” a duke of Bohemia in the 10th century, who was killed by his younger brother and other noblemen who conspired against him. After his death, stories soon circulated about his compassion for the poor, his generosity, and goodness. He would later receive the title of king from the Holy Roman Emperor, then veneration as a saint.
In the song, Good King Wenceslas is very much alive and looking out his window one night on the Feast of Stephen, which is celebrated on December 26. Though the moon shines brightly, there is much snow and a harsh wind.
So when the king sees a peasant collecting wood, he calls for provisions, he calls for his page, and together they set out in the bitter weather to deliver the gifts to the peasant’s home. The song then ends:
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.
The carol’s message of generosity is fitting during the Christmas season, and especially for December 26 which is Boxing Day where I live in Canada. While for many today, Boxing Day has become just another day off, and a time for post-Christmas sales, it has also been associated with giving to the poor.
But at a Christmas concert last week, what caught my attention was the relationship between the King and his page, for at one point the page says:
Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer.
And the king replies with considerable compassion:
Mark my footsteps, good my page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winters rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.
So king and page continue:
In his master’s step he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.
It suddenly occurred to me that the page could go on because he followed in the footsteps of the King.
That’s so much like our lives today, isn’t it? When we face the harsh winds of various trials, when our hearts fail and we feel we can’t go on, King Jesus invites us to follow in his footsteps. Our trials may still persist, we may still feel we can’t go on, yet in the footsteps of the King we can tread boldly.
So for this Christmas, whatever the weather you face today, whatever the winter’s rage, I pray that you and I might tread boldly and give generously. For we do not go alone. We follow in the footsteps of our King.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: What is your favourite Christmas carol and why?
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