Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Feast of Stephen

We don't get any break between the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and the feast of the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen the Deacon. The Feast of Stephen was commemorated in 1853 in a carol by British composer John Mason Neale. King Wenceslas, a Tenth Century Bohemian Christian king, was martyred and is the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

The carol makes no mention of the holy nativity of Jesus, but is sung at Christmas because Stephen's feast day is December 26. Stephen was one of the first seven deacons ordained by the Apostles to serve tables and care for widows (Acts chapters 6 and 7).

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

It sounds just like something Jesus would have done, or Jesus' follower Stephen the Deacon would have done.

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

In peace,

The Rev. Linda McCloud

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