As we approach the culmination of Advent and, on Saturday, celebrate the birth of our Savior, my thoughts turn to a story by Henry Van Dyke, the Story of the Other Wise Man. Artaban prepared to leave with the three other wise men, but missed them by just a few hours. He never managed to catch up, to them. While following the star he encountered people in need. He had sold all of his possessions to go on this journey and purchased three majestic gems: a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl to give the king.
Artaban, when he finally reached Israel, became a wanderer throughout Israel and Egypt, always searching for the king he could not find. He consulted scholars, disciples, and sought him ought, but he could not find the king for whom he searched. He sold the sapphire and the ruby he had brought to give to the new-born king, who he did not know, to assist those in need, asking himself, “Should he risk the great reward of his divine faith for the sake of a single deed of human love?” (p. 16)
Finally, after 33 years of searching, “Worn and weary and ready to die, but still looking for the King, he had come for the last time to Jerusalem […] and something whispered in his heart that, at last, he might succeed.” (p. 29) Yet, in the final encounter of Artaban’s life, he surrendered the pearl, his final treasure, to save a poor, helpless soul in desperate need. He never made it to meet his king, who was being crucified that day, in fact, at that same moment. The other wise man’s final lament tragically proclaims, “Not so, my Lord! For when saw I thee an 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.” (p. 33) In Artaban’s dying moments, a sweet voice proclaims to him, “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.” (p. 34)
This story speaks to me during this time of year for so many reasons. How many of us fear that we’ve only just missed to best moments? That if only we had been born a decade earlier, if only we had not fallen into a particular sin while young, if only I hadn’t made that one decision 30 years ago, that if only things were different I would be able to meet Jesus Christ face to face, that following him would be easier? How many of us, on the search to find Jesus Christ, look around us to see the world and the people around us, offering the poor souls we encounter the gifts we have? How often do we not recognize the face of Christ in these same people? How often do we seek to retain that joy of Christmas, only to find out that our journey to meet our King is going to be a life-long journey?
This story proposes so many questions to our hearts, uncomfortable and challenging questions. When we are wandering through the world, seeking an answer for the infinite longing of our hearts, we are like the great crowds in the Bible who sought Jesus: “many wanted to see Jesus, to be healed by him, to meet him.” (Luigi Giussani, Why the Church?, p. 20) Having taken on human form, Jesus could not have tended to all of his flock himself. “Unable to visit all the towns and villages, he began to send his closest followers to the places he could not reach.” (Giussani, p. 20)
We never know the power of our own witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. We do not know the impact it will have on the hearts of our family, our friends, and even ourselves. If Artaban had not met the disciples of Jesus, he would not have learned that “Those who seek [the King] will do well to look among the poor and the lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed.” (Van Dyke, p. 27) If the apostles and disciples of Jesus had not gone to the ends of the earth, and if the story of Jesus, the story of God’s infinite self-giving love for all humanity, had not been told from generation to generation, none of us would have know. Our faith is a story to be shared, because in each unique story of coming to know Jesus Christ we see another side of his glory. We see another side of his love. We see another side of his mercy.
Contemplating the Christ child this Christmas, let us ponder the question: what is the love story God wants to write in my heart?