Good King Wenceslas

December 2nd, 2013 by Karen

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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, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

How often do we hear about the poor? It seems the news takes great pains to point it out right before the holidays or when some spate of violence happens that involves the poorest in our communities. Politicians fill their sound bites with criticisms of other politician’s opinions in a never ending cycle of complaints about who is abusing ‘the system’. We walk past beggars in the street without a glance or with a self-aggrandizing sense that they’d waste a donation on drugs or booze.

But how often do we actually listen to the actual plight of the poor?

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st 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.”

Unfortunately, approx 14.5% of the country live in food insecurity. That works out to 49 million people, 15.9 million of which are kids. That’s one out of seven people who are unable to put adequate food on the table at some point during the year and make cuts where they can just to feed their kids. (Quick math: I have 816 friends on Facebook. 14.5% of this is 118 people. It’s a lot.) Reductions in quality, in quantity, adults reducing the number of their meals so children are adequately fed. Food insecurity has been tied to obesity, chronic diseases, and the outcomes of many cancer patients. It’s heartbreaking.

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither. ”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

Food banks and local charities do great work as they often know exactly what a community needs and their small focus lends itself well to nimble activation in an emergency, but they need resources and more than just cash. Often, we are asked only for money which is a shame because that’s a resource that’s not always readily available for many. I say this a lot, but it bears repeating. There are three things a person has to give of themselves:

Time, Talent, and Treasure.

Can you take the time to volunteer at your local charity serving or making a meal, even just one? Can a local charity use your talents to balance their books, repair a faucet, wrap presents for children, help run their annual fundraiser? Can you donate money or food or gloves or jackets or toothpaste? What do you have in your house right this moment that you don’t use or truly love that you can take and bless someone else with today? (Go get it and put it in your car right now. This post will still be here when you get back.)

“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, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly. “

Winter has already hit hard in many places. It’s cold outside and for families that are stretched thin already, it makes things doubly hard. Heating bills go up, healthy food costs more as it’s off season, and children have outgrown last year’s coats, pants, sweaters and shoes. There simply is no budget for frills like Christmas. Children in these households have grown up fast out of necessity. Asked what they most wish for, they ask for a coat or new pants for something for their parents or siblings. Simply put, kids who are worried about where their family’s next meal might be coming from have much more important things on their mind than the latest and greatest gadgets and even just having to ask comes with a heavy burden of shame for needing to -ask- for something as simple as new socks.

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Wenceslas wasn’t a king. He never was during his life. He was a duke, raised in a household with a Christian father, pagan mother, and Christian grandmother, St. Ludmila. After the death of his father when he was 13, his mother grew jealous of Ludmila’s influence over him and had her strangled. Eventually, his own reign ended when three friends of his younger brother murdered him as he rode to church.

Sounds like a pretty broken family, doesn’t it? Yet, in spite of his own troubles and strife, Wenceslas still exhibited piety and charity in his lifetime, so much so in fact that he posthumously was given the title of ‘king’ by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. I’ve always loved this ‘traditional’ carol* and I think it’s a wonderful example of how to live your faith. Look outside of your own comfortable space. Give of yourself. Care for those who have less than you. Show the way to others so they can do it too.

A lovely thing to remember as we count the days until Christmas.

*(yes, I know it has several inherent issues that clash with calling traditional, like the king/duke bit and the fact that it borrows the tune wholesale from the medieval children’s song ‘Tempus adest floridum’. I still like it.)

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