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 Though the frost was cruel When a poor man came in sight Gath’ring winter fuel”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.”
“Bring me flesh and bring me wine Bring me pine logs hither Thou and I will see him dine When we bear him thither.” Page and monarch forth they went Forth they went together Through the rude wind’s wild lament And the bitter weather
“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, my good page Tread thou in them boldly Thou shalt find the winter’s rage Freeze thy blood less coldly.”
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
John Mason Neale* (1818-1866). First printed in Neale’s Deeds of Faith (1849), a children’s book, and then in his Carols for Christmastide (1853). The words were written to fit the tune of the carol, ‘Tempus adest floridum’* (‘Spring has now unwrapped the flowers’) from Piae Cantiones (Greifswald, 1582). You can hear the hymn here.
But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
Forget comforting Christmas card scenes of Bohemian King and pageboy trudging through snow to bring alms to a poor man. That is good seasonal fare and a reminder to be generous on this Boxing Day.However if you can stomach it at this festival time, this moment recorded in the Acts of the Apostles when the crowd’s anger boiled over and they picked up stones to hurl at Stephen, is worth a moment’s reflection. Luke tells us that, at the moment of greatest danger, Stephen is looking up and filled with the Holy Spirit, is overwhelmed with a vision of God’s glory. It is this which ignites the crowd’s fury. As they were stoning him, he was praying. Still giving all his attention to God. Still seeking to imitate Jesus in his prayer for the crowd to be forgiven.
Today, in the midst of festivity, Help us to see your glory, as infant and as suffering servant, Fill our hearts and minds and spirits, So that like Stephen we may offer your forgiveness, To those near and far who would do us harm, In the name of Jesus, Amen
The Rev’d Richard Church is Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship) and a member of Streatham URC.