Earlier in the week here in Atlanta, Ga we had 4 inches or so of SNOW. This once-in-a-decade “Snowmageddon” or “Snowpocalypse,” as some have termed it, has, needless to say, shut down transportation in much of the city. SO, in lieu of a snowmobile or car that can handle snow/ice, I’ve been hiking to work (literally) a few miles each way (2.3 miles) to Emory University to meet and work with the college students of the Emory Wesley Fellowship (http://emorywesley.org). The students are filtering in and doing well–especially since classes should have started YESTERDAY–needless to say, they’re enjoying their time of epic sledding and adventurously traversing the ice.
In my own travels through the snow and ice covered streets I’ve found myself enjoying parts of the neighborhoods I usually zip through in my car or on my bike. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the sidewalks (and for people who have been so kind as to scrape and/or salt their section of the sidewalk) and for walking in the snow and ice.
As I’ve been hiking through the ice I’ve found myself humming and singing a familiar carol that we used at Christmas in worship services with the Emory college students. Good King Wenceslas is an old, familiar carol that I’ve sung often (and even made up alternate lyrics on occasion). For our closing worship service for the Fall Semester last year, the Emory Wesley students offered up short meditations on their favorite Christmas carols as to why they liked the carol and some of its historical significance or origins. One of the students selected Good King Wenceslas and shared a brief history of it–of how it is the recounting of the benevolent actions of a Saint King (actually Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia in the 10th Century wikipedia here) and his page (assistant of the day). It is the story of a king looking out on the day after Christmas (the Feast of Stephen) and seeing a poor man gathering fire wood. The king and page then carry meat, wine, and wood to the peasant’s house through a brutal winter storm to “see him dine.” As they are going “Thro’ the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather” the page says he “can go no longer.” The monarch then tells the page to follow in his footsteps and as the page steps on the warmed ground where the Saint has walked!
The moral of this olden tale is social justice and care for the poor: “Therefore, Christian men (people), be sure, Wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing. It is not simply a 10th Century prosperity gospel, but a carol that reminds us to be a blessing to others–regardless of our social or economic status. Christ calls us to ministry with and for the poor–in serving and loving people we will discover the blessing of mutuality and understanding of others.
Below is my recording of an arrangement of the beloved Christmas Carol from the 16th Century. Again, the origins of this carol come from the stories of a Saintly ‘King’ Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia, who lived in the 10th Century in what is modern day Czech Republic (where he is now the patron Saint).
Good King Wenceslas looked out On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about deep and crisp and even
Brightly shown the moon that night though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight gathering winter fuel
“Hither, page, and stand by me, If thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, Bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, When we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, Forth they went together;
Thro’ the rude wind’s wild lament And the bitter weather.
“Sire, the night is darker now, And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”
Mark my footsteps, good my page; Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage Freeze thy blood less coldly.”
In his master’s steps he trod, Where the snow lay dented;
Heat was in the very sod Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men (people), be sure, Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing.