The moon shown brightly this night in the year 928. The reigning lord of the Bohemian land (present day Prague) was out with a bag full of food, clothes and provisions. He was only 25 years old, but already some would describe him not as Duke, but father of the poor. He made frequent trips like this one out among the commoners to provide aid. On these trips he would only take one chamberlain to help carry the items he would give away.
Duke Wenceslas stooped down to hand the woman some bread. She was aware that he was the lord of the land, and recognized him even though he was wearing common clothing. ‘Thank you,’ was all she could say with tears in her face.
Next Wenceslas stopped at the home of the woman who took in children who had lost their parents. She couldn’t provide enough food for the kids on her own, but Wenceslas had generously given her extra clothes and food for the group on many occasions. She was speechless, as usual, though her smile of gratitude said it all.
On he went, giving coins to beggars, bread rolls to prisoners, and blankets to homeless men and woman.
When his bag was empty, he would be happy for what he could do, but never felt like he had done enough. So there would be more trips like this one to go out and visit the poor and give to the needy.
In 921, 18-year-old Duke took over as ruler from his mother, who had rejected Christianity and Christian order at the death of her husband. Duke Wenceslas had truly converted to Christianity and reestablished Christian order once again. He wasn’t the most gifted speaker or governor of his lands, indeed some of this creeds were unpopular among the pagan population, but he was loved by the people because he was generous and kind to them. He wanted to follow Christ. That meant taking care of the poor.
Duke Wenceslas had a younger brother that wanted to be Duke. Wenceslas gave his brother large areas where he could rule, again showing Wenceslas’ kindness to others. His brother eventually killed Wenceslas (before he was yet 31 years old) to take control of the whole land. The people mourned his death and celebrate his life each year on September 28.
Actual history from early tenth century in that medieval area is hard to find. The four documents about Wenceslas that came after his death, are not widely regarded as completely factual. But what they do say is that he “went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.”
For a man to be remembered for centuries with so little information, leads me to believe he really was kind and generous in an age when kings and nobles relished in class distinction. He saw the favored state he was in, and the power of his position. He also was taught by his grandmother about Christ’s love and the hope of salvation to those that follow him.
So he had a choice. He could serve his own pleasures and rule like most nobles, or he could serve others like Christ taught. He chose to follow Christ.
He died as a Duke, but was later given the name of King Wenceslas. Though the Christmas Carol is not completely factual, the principle is still true.
“Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
shall yourselves find blessing.”
Here is a video of Jane Seymour and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sharing the story/song of Good King Wenceslas.
Christmas is a time when we give to others. Service is common and welcomed most at this time of year. Not only are businesses brought into better financial position, but food banks get the most food and help at Christmas time.
Why is that?
It’s not because of advertising or shiny packages. It’s because Christ was born – the greatest of all and the best example of service. His love is felt this time of year as we serve others. There are a lot of people that focus on themselves. This year try doing something for someone else that no one else will know about. Be like Wenceslas and go without pomp or circumstance and be kind to someone. Follow Christ and love your neighbor.