One of my favorite Christmas carols is "Good King Wenceslas." I love the tune, but I treasure its message more. The carol tells about Wenceslas who was a Bohemian king in the 10th century of what is now a part of the western Czech Republic. His reign was brief, because his own brother murdered him in AD 929. However, his rule was characterized by an uncommon concern for the poor, the needy, and the disadvantaged of his kingdom. According to the tradition, Wenceslas was walking through the woods with his page on the feast day of St. Stephen, which is the day after Christmas. The king sees a peasant at a far distance and inquires of his page who that peasant might be. The page knows the peasant who lives nearby and knows also that he is very poor. Wenceslas, moved by the peasant's plight, arranges a banquet for him. The king orders,
Wenceslas knows that there is neither rank nor is there privilege among any of God's children. All people, whether rich or poor, should have at least the necessities of life. It falls upon those who have to provide for those who have not. As the monarch and page begin their rescue mission, the page begins to complain about the chilling winds of that Bohemian winter. The page just doesn't want or can't go on because of the cold conditions. To which Wenceslas replies,
The king was going to mark the path that the page was to go. "Follow me! I'll lead the way," was the king's reply. Wenceslas wasn't giving orders from the warmth of his castle; he was out there in the bitter elements trying to help. At this Christmas season, we too must get out there among the problems plaguing our neighbors whether near or far and help them as we can. We just cannot sit back in the warmth of our homes and wish that things would get better for those in need without us being there for them. We need to get involved as did good king Wenceslas did with the peasant.
In addition to getting out there and becoming involved, we need to understand one of the phenomena of helping. Once we get involved even when it is uncomfortable, we will discover what the page of Wenceslas discovered in that Czech forest on that bitter day centuries ago:
Doing the work of caring for the disadvantaged in our often cold and cruel world produces for all those who are willing to help experience a strange and comforting warmth. As the page assisted Wenceslas in their wintry work, the page himself experienced warmth. As the carol concludes:
What is true for the carol can be true for each of us in our lives. If we take the first steps to go out into the wintry world, we will bless and be blessed by our outreach. We will be comforted by the knowledge that we have relieved some suffering for some that were lost and alone in their battle with the cruel wintry elements like unemployment, poverty, and broken families.
As you are planning your Christmas celebration, don't forget to plan also for those who may not be your actual blood relatives but part of your human family. You can't truly be rich if another person is poor. Your own riches are linked to the elimination of the hurting of others. There is no such thing as being rich with the poor surrounding you. The poor in the final analysis control your happiness and richness! Therefore, starting this Christmas and continuing throughout the New Year, each of us needs to walk in the snow with Wenceslas. Look at churches, community organizations, and friends for help in finding the right place for you to share with the poor or less fortunate than you. Do for the poor, and do it for your benefit-for all will benefit.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 12/21/00.