The Other Wise Man Version 2 – A Short Christmas Story

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Each year at Christmas time we delight to follow the wise men as they came out of the East and made their way to Bethlehem where they worshipped the new-born king and laid their treasures at his feet. But Henry Van Dyke has told us about another wise man who also followed the star not only to Bethlehem, but throughout his life, and yet he never found the king. The other wise man’s name was Artaban. He was a kind of unknown soldier who didn’t quite make the headlines. He was also one of the Magi and lived in Persia. He was a man of great wealth, great learning and great faith. With his learned companions he had searched the scriptures as to the time that the Savior should be born. They knew that a new star would appear and it was agreed between them that Artaban would watch from Persia and the others would observe the sky from Babylon.

On the night that the sign was to be given, Artaban was speaking to nine of his Magi friends in his home. He said to them, “My three brethren are watching at the ancient temple of the Seven Spheres, at Borsippa, in Babylon and I am watching here. If the star appears, they will wait for me ten days, then we will all set out together for Jerusalem. I believe the sign will come tonight. I have made ready for the journey be selling all of my possessions and have bought these three jewels–a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl–I intend to present them as my tribute to the king. ” He said, “I invite you to make the pilgrimage with us that we may worship the new-born king together.”

While he was speaking he thrust his hand into the inmost fold of his girdle and drew out three great gems–one blue as a fragment of the night sky, one redder than a ray of the sunrise, and one as pure as the peak of a snow mountain at twilight. He would give them all to the King. Then one of Artaban’s friends Said, “Artaban, this is a vain dream. No King will ever rise from the broken race of Israel. He who looks for him is a chaser of shadows. ” Then he bid Artaban farewell and left his dwelling. Each in turn offered his own particular excuse, and finally only his oldest and truest friend remained. He said, “Artaban, I am too old for this quest, but my heart goes with thee.” Then with a hand on Artaban’s shoulder he said, “Those who would see wonderful things, must often be willing to travel alone . ” Left to himself Artaban put his jewels back into his girdle. Then he parted the curtains and went out onto the roof to again take up his vigil to watch the night sky.

As Jupiter and Saturn rolled together like drops of lambent flame about to blend into one, an azure spark was born out of the darkness beneath them, rounding itself with purple splendor into a crimson sphere.

Then Artaban, still following the king, went on into Egypt, seeking everywhere for traces of the little family that had fled before him from Bethlehem. For many years we follow Artaban in his search. We see him at the pyramids. We see him in an obscure house in Alexandria, taking counsel with a Hebrew rabbi who told him to seek the king not among the rich but among the poor. Then we follow him from place to place. He passed through countries where famine lay heavy upon the land, and the poor were crying for bread. He made his dwelling in plague-stricken cities where the sick were languishing in the bitter companionship of helpless misery. He visited the oppressed and the afflicted in the gloom of subterranean prisons. He searched the crowded wretchedness of slave-markets. Though he found no one to worship, he found many to serve. As the years passed he fed the hungry, clothed the naked, healed the sick and comforted the captive.

Once we see Artaban for a moment as he stood alone at sunrise, waiting at the gate of a Roman prison. He had taken from its secret resting place in his bosom, the last of he jewels that he was saving for the king. Shifting gleams of azure and rose trembled upon is surface. It seemed to have absorbed some of the colors of the lost sapphire and ruby; just as a noble life draws into itself its profound purpose; so that all that has helped it is transfused into its very essence, so the pearl had become more precious because it had long been carried close to the warmth of a beating human heart.

Thirty three years had now passed away since Artaban began his search and he was still a pilgrim. His hair was now white as snow. He knew his life’s end was near but he was still desperate with hope that he would find the king. He had come for the last time to Jerusalem.

It was the season of the Passover and the city was thronged with strangers. There was a singular agitation visible in the multitude. A secret human tide was sweeping them toward the Damascus gate.

Artaban inquired where they were going. One answered, “We are going to the execution on Golgotha, outside the city walls. Two robbers are to be crucified, and with them another called Jesus of Nazareth, a man who has done many wonderful works among the people. But the priests and elders have said that he must die, because he claims to be the Son of God. Pilate sent him to the cross, because he said that he was the “King of the Jews.’ How strangely these familiar words fell upon the tired heart of Artaban. They had led him for a lifetime over land and sea. And now they came to him darkly and mysteriously like a message of despair. The king had been denied and cast out. He was now about to perish. Perhaps he was already dying. Could he be the same for whom the star had appeared thirty-three long -years ago.

– Henry Van Dyke

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