Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day

First Sunday after Christmas
Feast Day of St. Stephen, Martyr
The Second Day of Christmas
Boxing Day
December 26, 2010

In England, today is known as “Boxing Day.” It is a day dedicated to charitable work. The idea behind the name is that people box-up presents and give them to the poor. It is also the Feast Day of St. Stephen, Martyr, of which I wrote in the worship notes for today’s canceled worship service.

[For those who do not live in Spartanburg, we canceled our worship service for today (like so many other churches in town) because it snowed yesterday. (Yes, we had a white Christmas.) In fact, it is still snowing. Because we do not get that much snow, the city does not have a host of snow removal equipment and the roads remain treacherous. Our church is at the top of a hill that remains in the shade until the afternoon, so getting to church can be dangerous.]

I guess most people know of the Feast of St. Stephen from the old English Carol “Good King Wenceslas. The carol tells one the legends associated with the very real historical person Wenceslas. He was a Christian king/duke of Bohemia (907–935). When his father died his pagan mother, Drahomira, ruled as regent (though she was baptized when she married Vratislav). She persecuted Christians and instituted other harsh measures. Wenceslas had her deposed and began his reign. He was known for his charitable work and support of the Christian Church. His brother, Boleslav, supported by the pagans in the land, murdered Wenceslas while he was on his way to a worship service and assumed the throne. The people were outraged because Wenceslas was so admired by all for his fairness and compassion. Even many pagans liked him and were opposed to the harsh measures of Drahomira. Whether from political concerns, or from a sincere change of heart, Boleslav worked successfully to have Wenceslas declared a saint, transferred his remains to St Vitus's Church, and he became a dedicated supported of works of mercy and the Christian Church.

Why might the carol Good King Wenceslas place the story of a charitable act of this saint on the Feast of Stephen? Probably because they both die a martyr's death and because the Feast of St. Stephen falls on the day after Christmas. Those who enjoy material blessings (like Wenceslas), on the day after they have enjoyed them (receiving presents on Christmas) now turn their Christian hearts to the poor (like Wenceslas) and box-up some gifts for them.
    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

Blessings in Christ,

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