Stories simply written can teach many lessons. "The Story of the Other Wise Man" by Henry Van Dyke proves this point clearly. The story is simply this. A well educated astronomer and physician by the name of Artaban has planned to join his colleagues, the three wise men, to go in search of Jesus Christ, the new born king of the Jews. Artaban starts off to meet Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. He brings with him three gifts: a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl. His colleagues are bringing the Christ Child gold, frankincense and myrrh. Artaban was to meet the three wise men in ten days. He never meets them. The wise men saw Christ in Bethlehem. Artaban never sees the child.
Artaban fails to meet the three wise men and Christ because along the way he is delayed. Why didn't he meet the wise men at the appointed time? He met a man along the way who was sick and dying. Artaban ministered to him, took care of him and restored him to life. But in doing so he missed the three wise men who had to leave without him. And so the search for the person of Christ was something Artaban had to do on his own. He gives the sapphire to a small caravan to help them go across the desert. He takes counsel from a scholarly Jewish Rabbi who tells him that the new born king is not to be found in a palace, nor among the rich and powerful. His kingdom is a new kingdom, the royalty of perfect and unconquerable love. Artaban followed the counsel of the Rabbi and though, as Van Dyke says, he found more to worship, he found many to help. He fed the hungry, he clothed the naked and healed the sick and comforted the captive. His ruby was given to a soldier to protect a small child from being slaughtered. His last gift, the pearl, was given to prevent a young woman from being taken into slavery.
The quest for Christ continues for some 33 years. One day, at Passover, people were talking about a crucifixion that was taking place. The earth started to quake. The sky darkened. Artaban and the young woman he had given the pearl to sought shelter. A heavy tile struck Artaban on the head. He was badly injured. Then Artaban, with blood all over his face, seemed to be whispering and saying, "not so, My Lord, for when did I see you hungry, or thirsty and gave thee to drink? When did I see a stranger and take thee in? For 33 years I have looked for you and never saw your face." And the voice that prompted all the words of Artaban became more clear and strong and said, "as often as you did it to one of these, my brethren, you did it to me."
There is no doubt that the other wise men found the king. But Artaban also found him in his own way. There is no doubt in reading this Christmas story that the author was telling us that there are so many Christ-like people in our own life that have to be ministered to.
The journey of Artaban to see Christ is a reminder that Christ, in the person of the homeless or the forgotten elderly, is in our midst. Van Dyke has told us that the most beautiful words that we can hear are the words "as long as you did it to them, you did it for me."
May all of us experience and hear these words as we journey to find Christ.
And there in front of them
was the star
they had seen rising.
It went forward
and halted over the place
where the child was . . .
They saw the child
with his mother Mary,
and falling to their knees
they did him homage.