Sunday, December 26, 2010

On the Second Day of Christmas: The Feast of St. Stephen

St. Stephen was the first martyr. He was killed for his faith. Today's festival provides a unique contrast to the manger scene (which is romanticized in our hymnody and liturgical decoration). For more on the placement of the Feast of St. Stephen, you can check out last year's post.

St. Stephen finds himself in the first line of the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas."

This carol is rooted in folklore and tells the legend of a Christian king and his page helping a homeless person and the miracle of how the page was kept warm on their walk. The final stanza offers a moral lesson that can be learned from the story. As the hymn is rooted in folk legend and has no mention of Jesus, it is not found in many hymnals. The carol lends itself more to moral teaching than a proclamation of the Gospel.

Still, this is an outstanding arrangement of this carol! The text provides a dialog between the king and the page which otherwise can go unnoticed if all verses are sung by a choir or congregation. This setting singles those lines out as solo parts.

"Good King Wenceslas"

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,
gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me,
if thou knowst 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 them thither."

Page and monarch forth they went,
forth they went together,
Through the cold 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 good, my page,
tread now in them boldly,
Thou will find the winter’s rage
freeze your 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,
You who now will bless the poor
shall yourselves find blessing.

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