Trust in the Lord and do good
by Rev Jacky Quarmby 17 December 2021
We are going to leave the Book of Genesis for a few weeks, as we approach Christmas and today I want to focus on the popular carol, Good King Wenceslas.
Wenceslas is not a mythical figure. He was born around 905 AD near Prague, in a country that was then called Bohemia and he was the heir to the Bohemian throne. Wenceslas was brought up by his grandmother Ludmilla, who had a strong Christian faith, which Wenceslas came to adopt as his own. When Wenceslas was 13 years of age, his father, the King of Bohemia, died. Wenceslas’s mother, who was an ambitious and powerful woman, decided that Wenceslas was too young to rule and seized power for herself. The new Queen hated Christianity. She had Wenceslas’ grandmother, Ludmilla murdered and set out to persecute Christian believers.
But Wenceslas never forgot his grandmother and as soon as he reached the age of 18, he overthrew his mother’s rule and took power for himself, as rightful king and heir. As a committed follower of Christ he stopped the persecution of priests and he encouraged the spread of the Christian religion.
In today’s psalm we are encouraged to “Trust in the Lord and do good”. Wenceslas believed very much that a person’s Christian belief should be lived out in their actions and he was especially known for his kindness to the poor. When Wenceslas found someone in need, he would take them food, going out at night, so that nobody else would know that the people were struggling. That’s where the carol has come from.
King Wenceslas looks out of his window at night on the Feast of Stephen (Boxing Day) and sees a poor man gathering twigs for winter fuel, and he asks his page, “Where does that man live?” And the page says, “A long way away Sir, by St Agnes Fountain.” Then Wenceslas replies “Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither, thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither.” In other words, bring food and wine and dry logs and let’s take them to him and provide him with a real feast this Christmas time. And off they go, the King and his page, stepping out into the wild wind and bitter cold with their gifts for the poor man. But the wind is bitingly cold and the snow so deep, that soon the page is struggling to keep up with his master. “Sir, my heart fails me, I can go no further,” he says. Then Wenceslas turns round to him and says very gently, “Take heart good page, stick close by me and plant your feet in my footsteps and the night will not seem so cold and dark.” So the Page stayed close to his master and found the strength to go on.
But this is more than just a story about a King and his page taking gifts to a poor man. It is also a picture of King Wenceslas’ relationship with Jesus, his master. Throughout the battles that Wenceslas had faced in his life, even when he was terrified and he felt that his heart would fail him, he had discovered that the way forward was to stick close to Jesus Christ, and to plant his feet in Jesus’ footsteps. Only then would he find the strength to go on.
King Wenceslas was a good man and a good King. Throughout his reign he struggled to maintain control of his country against tough opposition from the closest members of his family. One night, as he was praying in his chapel, he was murdered by his brother’s soldiers and his kingdom was overthrown. He had reigned for five years – and was just 23 years of age. King Wenceslas died, as he had lived, close to his master.
But despite his short reign, King Wenceslas has been remembered for centuries in this popular carol, as a King who trusted in the Lord and found his fulfilment doing good. As the final words of the carol remind us, “You who will bless the poor, will yourself find blessing.” Perhaps that’s something for all of us to remember, as we approach the Christmas season.
Carol: Good King Wenceslas
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Even when the storms rage and our strength fails
Help us to trust in you and commit our way into your hands.
And no matter how hard life gets
May we never miss an opportunity
To do something good for someone in need. Amen