“Good King Wenceslaus looked out, on the feast of Stephen.” Most of us know the opening lines of the popular Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslaus,” but very few people give much thought to when the feast of Stephen is, who Stephen was, or why this is a Christmas song (aside from the obvious winter setting). Well, yesterday (Dec. 26) was the feast of St. Stephen, the day after Christmas. At the time of King Wenceslaus the days from Dec. 25 through Epiphany were all Christmas, and the Christmas season lasted for 40 days (it still does for Catholics), so the feast of St. Stephen was most definitely a part of Christmas. Which is interesting, because St. Stephen is most famous for being the first Christian martyred for his faith—and death is not something we usually associate with Christmas.
But I argue that St. Stephen is a perfect saint for the day after Christmas. Moderns might think it sounds morbid to say Christ was born to die, but actually it is a beautiful and joyous truth that Jesus became human so that His death could redeem mankind from sin. The Baby Jesus was laid in a wooden manger and the grown Jesus hung on the wood of the cross, and those two events are inextricably linked as an expression of the immense love of God for humanity. Just so, St. Stephen gave even his own life as an expression of love for the God-man who was born in Bethlehem, and so attained Heaven.
King Wenceslaus was a saint and a martyr too. But though Wenceslaus died, Christianity won out in Bohemia in the end. It was this Wenceslaus—such an exception among king and rulers for his goodness—about whom the famous story melodized in the Christmas carol was told. Now, as you listen to this Christmas song, remember that it is a story of three men (one both God and man) who sacrificed their lives to bring love to the world: Jesus Christ, St. Stephen, and “Good King Wenceslaus.”
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