How to Keep the True Meaning of Christmas
by Rev. Andrea Andress
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
How do you keep the true meaning of Christmas amid all the commercial glitz and glitter of holiday celebrations? The question pops up every so often. Years ago, I found the best answer in the form of a short story by Henry van Dyke, The Other Wiseman, published in 1895.
The essence of the story goes like this: Artaban, a priest of the Magi, had planned to go with his three friends (the traditional Wise Men from the Gospel of Matthew) in search of the King born among the Jews. On seeing the star, he sets out to meet with them at a caravan point. He carries three treasures to give – a sapphire, a ruby and a “pearl of great price.” But on the way, he stops to help a dying man, making him miss the appointed time. He is forced to sell the sapphire in order to buy camels and supplies necessary to make the trip. He arrives at Bethlehem too late. His friends and the family have disappeared, rumored to have gone to Egypt. While in Bethlehem, Herod’s soldiers arrive, killing all the young male children. Artaban saves the life of a child at the price of the ruby.
He then travels to Egypt, back to the land of the Jews and on to many other countries searching for Jesus and performing acts of charity along the way. After 33 years, Artaban is still a pilgrim, a seeker after light. He arrives one last time to Jerusalem just in time for the crucifixion of Jesus. On his way hoping to ransom Jesus, he instead comes across a young girl being sold into slavery and with the pearl, his final treasure, he pays her ransom. One last time his life-long inner turmoil goes on as to whether to save his gift for God, or spend it in love to humanity.
Then a roof tile strikes him on the head. As he is about to die, knowing he has failed in his quest to find Jesus, he hears a voice who tells him, “Truly I say to you, as you have done these things to the least of them, you have done it to me.” He dies in a calm reassurance, with wonder and joy. His treasures were accepted; the Other Wise Man had finally found his King.
Prayer: May we all find the God of peace and love and light in our hearts this year.