Carol Of Good King Wenceslas

What’s your favorite Christmas carol?  Silent Night?  Angels We Have Heard on High?  Joy to The World?  Those are probably the most popular and the ones we know the best.  But this wonderful little book, Come Let Us Adore Him, by Robert J. Morgan, has introduced me to some beautiful, lesser-known carols.  And it shares the stories behind them.  I was particularly surprised to read that there really HAD been a Good King Wenceslas and that he actually was GOOD!  All I ever knew were the first two lines – Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen where the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.  After that I would always sort of drift off with no clue what the rest of the lyrics were.  I’m apparently not alone, since I hardly EVER hear anyone call out that particular one when carolers are taking requests.

But according to Robert Morgan, King Wenceslas, born in Bohemia in the early 900’s, was a man worth remembering.  And if it weren’t for this carol, written in his honor  900 years later, few people outside of what is now the Czech Republic would know his name. A minister named John Mason Neale was inspired by stories of Wenceslas frequently venturing out into the cold to deliver food and wood to starving peasants. Neale wrote a poem that epitomized the kindness and concern that this King had for the poor.  The words of this carol, lyrics I had never heard before, not only describe the heart of a good man, but teach us a heart-warming lesson about humility.  Listen:

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen when the snow lay round about deep and crisp and even.  Brightly shone 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 you know 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 food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither.  You and I will see him dine when we bear them thither.”  Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together, through the cold 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, my good page, tread now in them boldly, You shall find the winter’s rage freeze your blood less coldly.”  In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted, heat was in the the very sod which the saint had printed.  Therefore, Christian fold, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, you who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.” 

Well, the miracle of the warm footsteps left by the King for the page to follow is a wonderful image for us all.  A King humbles himself, carrying wood on his back, making the long journey to the top of a hill to save the weak and the lost.   Those are certainly footsteps worth following.  And have you noticed, blessings always seem to await those who make that sort of journey.  May you find warm footsteps to follow this Christmas and may the carols you hear warm your heart this season as well.  See you soon.