URC Daily Devotion Saturday 26th December 2020

Saturday 26th December – Good King Wenceslas

This hymn written by the Anglican hymn writer and translator JM Neale was written to promote the spirit of generosity.  It is thought that Boxing Day – the Feast of Stephen – was when servants and tradespeople received their “Christmas boxes” from the employers.  Turning to the legend of Wenceslas he used the song to influence people to be more generous.

St Matthew 25: 34-40

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Good King Wenceslas
JM Neale 1853

You can hear this hymn here:

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


The hymn ‘Good King Wenceslas’ is incredibly evocative for me and comes to mind quite frequently when walking on the Lakeland fells in the mist or rain or snow at any time of the year. I am not a map reader, nor have a good sense of direction, so I usually find myself following in the footsteps of my walking companion and quite literally stepping in the prints he’s made in the mud or snow. I often burst into this song as I picture that page boy trying to keep up with the determination of the good king wanting to show his generosity of spirit – just on this special day of Christmas – to those he sees suffering in poverty and to whom he feels a sense of responsibility.

Christmas does that to us, doesn’t it? It is a time when we show our generosity – not only in response to folk who have kindly given us an unexpected gift, but we also find that perhaps it’s a time to give a bit more to charity – perhaps to ease our conscience over spending all that money on food and drink…….
Or is it because we wish to see the justice of God prevail as in the scene of the heavenly banquet when those who cared for the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned and strangers are recognised and welcomed into the kingdom? And not only at Christmas.

I am always grateful that when I can’t see where I’m going on the hills I have someone to follow and so too in my life as a disciple. I try to walk the walk and talk the talk but I am certain that if I tread in the footsteps of the Master I will be led in the right direction.

When we forget to be generous – remind us of our riches
When we see hunger and thirst – show us your face
When we are tired and can’t go on – refresh us with the encouragement of your Spirit
When we lose our way through the mist of uncertainty  – guide our steps on the right path
Strengthen our determination to follow where you lead, for Christ’s sake. Amen


Today’s writer

The Rev’d Lis Mullen is an active part-time retired minister. She is a member of Kendal URC



New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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