THE OTHER WISE MAN
By DANNY MINTON
One of my favorite stories at Christmastime is “The Other Wise Man” by Henry van Dyke. It’s the story of Artaban, a man who studied the stars. He and his companions in the east had been studying the stars looking for a sign they had discovered in an ancient book. The sign would signify the birth of a king in Jerusalem. When the conjunction of the stars appeared, Artaban was to meet his companions, and the four would travel to Jerusalem together. He had sold his house and possessions and bought a sapphire, ruby, and pearl as gifts for the king. When the night came, Artaban set out on his horse Vasda to meet his friends.
To get there in time, the two had to travel a certain distance each day, a tough road, but Vasda seemed as excited as Artaban to reach their companions, Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar. Within a day’s ride near the city of Babylon they came upon a man who appeared dead on the side of the road, but seeing him alive the pair stopped to help. He fed the man, gave him water and cared for his wounds. He then told the man he must leave to meet his friends for the journey to Jerusalem. The man sat up and told Artaban he had nothing to pay him for his kindness but one thing. The king he sought would not be in Jerusalem, but Bethlehem.
Artaban thanked the man and rode off to meet his friends, but too late, they had to leave without him. Artaban decided to return to Babylon sell the sapphire, purchase a caravan of camels and head to Bethlehem alone. It was evening when he arrived, the streets were dark, and there was an eerie silence in the dark with far away rumblings. It was three days after his companions arrived.
Walking through the streets, he heard a woman singing to a child and quickly went to her door and knocked. The door cracked open and the woman seeing him only as a traveler let him in to keep warm. He told her who he was looking for and she informed him that a few days earlier a group of men such as him came and found a child, paid homage to him and left quickly. She did hear the family with the child quietly mention that they were going to Egypt. As Artaban gathered information, a knock came on the door.
At the door were Roman soldiers looking for little boys. The household could hear screams and groans from the town. Artaban stood at the door blocking the Centurion from entering. Reaching into his bag, he pulled out the ruby and handed to the guard. It was a bribe to say that there was no child in the house. The Centurion left with the gift followed the next morning by Artaban who continued on to Egypt.
For 30 plus years Artaban continued his search for the King, following leads that led him nowhere. Then one day he hears of the trial of a man who proclaimed to be the son of God, King of the Jews in Jerusalem. In his old age, his last journey would be to the great city once again. He arrived to see a crowd gathered around a weary-looking man carrying a wooden cross down the streets. He could not get near and was distracted by a young woman who grabbed his garment begging for help. She was escorted by two guards who had arrested her for a debt she owed. Artaban in his compassion, reached into his bag one last time, retrieved the pearl and offered it to buy her freedom.
Artaban leaned against the young woman, and she held him as he lay dying. The earth trembles from what seems to be an earthquake, the skies become dark, and there is a deathly silence in the air. She hears a voice, a distant voice, maybe from a window above but can’t make out the words. Then she hears Artaban, quietly whisper words in his native Parthian tongue.
“Not so, my Lord! For when saw I thee and hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw I thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? When saw I thee sick or in prison, and came unto thee? Three-and-thirty years have I looked for thee; but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King.”
“He ceased, and the sweet voice came again. And again the maid heard it, very faintly and far away. But now it seemed as though she understood the words:
“Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.”
A calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban like the first ray of dawn on a snowy mountain-peak. One long, last breath of relief exhaled gently from his lips.
His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The other Wise Man had found the King.”
Nobody knows exactly when Jesus was born. History does not give us an accurate record of the date. The time we call Christmas is as good a time as any. The one thing that this time does is to focus the entire world on the birth of the King. It’s the one moment that practically everyone around the world will hear his name.
Yes, Christmas is commercialized these days. We teach our children that Santa is the giver of gifts to children who are good. Shoppers converge on the malls and stores buying gifts for loved ones, many of which are returned after the holiday for something different. We try to teach that it is better to give than to receive. We share that it’s the giving which is more important.
Yet, Christmas does seem to be a time in the midst of all the stress of the world that more people are kind. More are generous in giving to those in need. Giving trees, angel trees and the like are set up for people to donate. People serve in food kitchens and give food to the pantries to help those in need. Christmastime is a time when more people open their hearts and wallets than any other time of the year.
It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s better. It’s better because for one time in the year we are thinking less of ourselves and more about others. It’s a spirit that is there in the lives of people because of a gift we received nearly two-thousand years ago, the gift of the King. A king who expected no gift in return, but that we give to others.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ