Inquiring minds want to know. Who is good King Wenceslaus and what’s so good about the guy?
Tip off: As you know from the opening line, his story takes place on the feast of St. Stephen (a.k.a., today) which Anglophiles will know as Boxing Day, which has nothing to do with Muhammad Ali or Rocky or Raging Bull. It is a day when servants were honored with gifts. Let’s put that all together this Monday morning, the day after Christmas, and see what it says about living a life of faith.
Take them in chronological order. St. Stephen, whose story is told in the book of Acts (see a portion of it below) was the first martyr of the church, stoned to death by a mob, St. Paul on the sidelines holding coats for those who cast stones. I imagine St. Paul wished he could do that one over. But Stephen was also first among the deacons, selected by the church to take care of those who were overlooked, given a ministry to those who had been forgotten.
On Stephen’s feast day, 10th century Bohemian Good King Wenceslaus went out when the snow lay round about, deep and thick and even. Here’s the story the hymn tells. In snowy weather, Wenceslaus went to help a poor man, providing food for the hungry soul. Wenceslaus’ page whines about how cold it is, so the King invites the page to follow in his footsteps through the drifts, in fulfillment of a legend referred to by a preacher in the 12th century:
But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.
Which brings us to Boxing Day, observed in the United Kingdom as a day to give gifts to servants, ostensibly domestics, busy on Christmas Day waiting on the 1%. It is a day to recognize those who serve, and perhaps most especially those who are somehow invisible.
I don’t know how much St. Stephen and King Wenceslaus and Boxing Day are connected, but if they aren’t, they ought to be. They remind us in this Christmas season (remember it’s more than just one day) that Christ is met and known and loved in our encounters with the most vulnerable. Christ is met when we serve. Now more than ever, people of faith will have to look out for those in greatest need, nearby and far away. The Christmas story tells us as much. The starring characters in that story are those who were invisible to those in power. Shepherds on a hillside. Foreign magi. A refugee family looking for shelter. A baby born a king.
Take this day in the Christmas season to say a prayer for those in need, those most vulnerable. Think about those who are invisible, servants in our culture (those who pick up our garbage or recycling, those who wait on us in a restaurant, those who stand on the highway waving signs for post-Christmas sales, those poor souls on the front lines at customer service, those without homes, those whose political allegiances differ, those who watch different news channels, those confined and maybe forgotten in nursing facilities, those without homes or jobs, those who are quietly alone, etc.)
And maybe there’s a way to be a servant like St. Stephen, or to bring warmth in the cold like the 10th century king, or to acknowledge the dignity of someone who serves quietly with a small gift of some sort. Maybe as small as a word of thanks.
My guess is that if you discover that way today, it will be the way of Jesus, and it will make your Christmas merry and bright.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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