Throughout Christendom many hymns are sung during Christmastide and Advent. These hymns capture the majestic yet obscure birth of Jesus, in mellifluous melody. Amongst all these hymns one hymn, which is not popular today carries within each verse a deeper story which all mankind can relate to and must endeavour to fulfill. It is a song about a King named Wenceslas and his page (young male servant of the palace). It is speculated that the origin of the story is based on Prince Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia.
Realizing an immediate need the King did not pray for divine blessing and providence on the peasant, he ordered his servant to fetch some meat and wine along with logs of pine wood
John Mason Neale wrote the lyrics along with his friend Thomas Helmore in 1853. Neale’s lyrics were incorporated into a 13th Century spring melody Tempus adest floridum, which was sung in the 15th Century. The hymn is set in the backdrop of the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. The Western Churches celebrate this day on December 26 whilst the Eastern Orthodox Churches do so on December 27.
King Wenceslas is probably standing on an elevated balcony of his residence when there arose a mild wind, which probably brought with it snowflakes. At a distance he was able to see a man in dire need. A peasant. A farmer or woodcutter, trying to gather some logs to take to his lackluster cottage, with the hope of cooking a meal. The benevolent King is deeply moved by this sight. He inquires of his young servant, and is told the man has come down from near the mountains. Today in a self righteous society, how many would even come out to their balcony, even in fine tropical weather? How would they respond to the sight of such hopeless despair?
Realizing an immediate need the King did not pray for divine blessing and providence on the peasant, he ordered his servant to fetch some meat and wine along with logs of pine wood. He had the option of dispatching the food by many a servant. Wenceslas sets an example by going out himself, here again by foot and not on the regal stallion. This was the very essence of Jesus Christ, who as the Holy Bible records, when he saw a human need responded in person without sending envoys.
The Monarch and Page set out into the cold night, carrying their supply. The wind blows. The onset of a blizzard. Wenceslas wanted to dine with the poor man. Here again a lesson of true humility and not a condescending drama of fake compassion, which we witness in many benevolent deeds today, all done for prime time news! The fact that the King walks with his servant is also the hallmark of a wise mentor.
As they journey the wind howls. It is colder. The Page is weary and wants to give up. The persistent King takes the lead. Taking oncoming risk, exposing himself to danger he asks the servant to walk behind, proving himself as a Christian leader. Being encouraged the young man continues. We can be assured the peasant was indeed surprised to find the King knocking at his dimly lit log cabin. He would have been astonished that they wanted to eat with him. Wenceslas not only gave that man food and wine, but the greater gift of friendship and Christian brotherhood. The sacred scriptures encapsulate this in Matthew 25.40 “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”