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Stories about Christmas

December 25, 2010 is a Saturday, this is a special day for all of us where we celebrate the Birthday of Jesus Christ. If you stop and think about it, how the simple birth of a peasant baby boy in Bethlehem two thousand (2000) years ago can cause a mixed feeling of joy, love and hope.

I will tell you three stories about Christmas that has touched my heart this holiday season.

Story 1: The Fourth Wise Man

THE STORY OF THE FOURTH WISE MAN

You may know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they travelled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star rising, and set out to follow it, yet never arrived ?

Once there was a wise man called Artaban who had three friends, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. They had seen a special star, a star that marked the birth of a new king. They decided to follow the star to see and worship the promised one who was to be born King of Israel. Artaban arranged to meet his friends and made ready for the journey. He sold his house and all his possessions, and bought three jewels--a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl to take them as tribute to the King.

Before the birds had fully roused, before the white mist had begun to lift lazily from the plain, the other wise man was in the saddle, riding swiftly along the high-road, "The King is coming, and I will go to meet him." he said as he travelled, westward.::As they trotted near a grove of date palms his horse startled. Artaban dismounted.

The dim starlight revealed the form of a man lying across the road. His humble dress and the outline of his haggard face showed that he was poor and Artaban took the motionless body for dead. He turned away with a thought of pity, But, as he turned, a long, faint, ghostly sigh came from the man's lips. The brown, bony fingers closed on the hem of his robe and held him fast. Artaban's heart leaped to his throat, the man needed help, but how could he stop, tonight of all nights? If he lingered but for an hour he could hardly reach his friends at the appointed time. They would think he had given up the journey.They would go without him. He would lose his quest. But if he went on now, the man would surely die. If he stayed, life might be restored. Then he turned back to the sick man. Loosening the grasp of his hand, he carried him to a little mound at the foot of the palm-tree and tended to the sick man.

It was now past midnight, Artaban rode swiftly around the hill. He dismounted and climbed to the highest terrace, looking out towards the west, but his friends had gone without him. Artaban sat down upon the ground and covered his head in despair."How can I cross the desert," said he, "with no food and with a spent horse? I must return to Babylon, sell my sapphire, and buy a train of camels, and provision for the journey.

Artaban did this and continued on his journey until he arrived at Bethlehem. Then the other wise man drew near, weary, but full of hope, bearing his ruby and his pearl to offer to the King. "For now at last," he said, "I shall surely find him, though it be alone, and later than my friends. The streets of the village seemed to be deserted, and Artaban wondered whether the men had all gone up to the hill-pastures to bring down their sheep. From the open door of a low stone cottage he heard the sound of a woman's voice singing softly. He entered and found a young mother hushing her baby to rest. She told him of the strangers from the far East who had appeared in the village three days ago, and how they said that a star had guided them to the place where Joseph of Nazareth was lodging with his wife and her new-born child, and how they had paidreverence to the child and given him many rich gifts. "But the travellers disappeared again," she continued, "as suddenly as they had come. They have gone to Egypt to escape the Roman soldiers ." Suddenly there came the noise of a wild confusion and uproar in the streets of the village, a shrieking and wailing of women's voices: "The soldiers! the soldiers of Herod! They are killing our children." The young mother's face grew white with terror. She clasped her child to her bosom, and crouched motionless in the darkest corner of the room, covering him with the folds of her robe, lest he should wake and cry. But Artaban went quickly and stood in the doorway of the house. The soldiers came hurrying down the street with bloody hands and dripping swords. At the sight of the stranger in his imposing dress they hesitated with surprise. The captain of the band approached the threshold to thrust him aside. But Artaban did not stir. He held the soldier silently for an instant, and then said in a low voice: "There is no one in this place but me, and I am waiting to give this jewel to the prudent captain who will leave me in peace." He showed the ruby, glistening in the hollow of his hand like a great drop of blood. The captain was amazed at the splendour of the gem. He stretched out his hand and took the ruby. "March on!" he cried, "there is no child here. The house is still."

Artaban then went to Egypt, seeking everywhere for traces of the household that had come down from Bethlehem where he was told "the King whom you are seeking is not to be found in a palace, nor among the rich and powerful. I Those who seek Him will do well to look among the poor and the lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed." And so the other wise man , travelled from place to place, searching among the people. 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 living in misery. Though he found none to worship, he found many to help. He fed the hungry, and clothed the naked, and healed the sick.

Three-and-thirty years of the life of Artaban had passed , and he was still a pilgrim and a seeker after light. His hair, once dark, was now white and his eyes, that once flashed like flames of fire, were dull as embers smouldering among the ashes. Worn and weary and ready to die, but still looking for the King, he had come for the last time to Jerusalem. Artaban joined a group of people from his own country, and asked where they were going. they told him they were going to the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, a man who has done many wonderful works among the people, but who Pilate had sent 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. Could it be the same who had been born in Bethlehem, thirty-three years ago, at whose birth the star had appeared in heaven, and of whose coming the prophets had spoken? Artaban's heart beat unsteadily “I shall find the King, at last, in the hands of His enemies, and shall come in time to offer my pearl for His ransom before He dies." So the old man followed the multitude with slow and painful steps towards the Damascus gate of the city. Just beyond the entrance of the guard-house a troop of soldiers came down the street,dragging a young girl with torn dress and dishevelled hair.

She broke suddenly from the hands of her tormentors, and threw herself at his feet, clasping him around the knees. "Have pity on me," she cried, "and save me,my father was a merchant , but he is dead, and I am seized for his debts to be sold as a slave. Save me from worse than death!" He took the pearl from his bosom. Never had it seemed so luminous, soradiant, so full of tender, living lustre. He laid it in the hand of the slave. "This is thy ransom, daughter! It is the last of my treasures which I kept for the King."

While he spoke the darkness of the sky thickened, and shuddering tremors ran through the earth, heaving convulsively like the breast of one who struggles with mighty grief. Poor Artaban , What had he to live for? He had given away the last remnant of his tribute for the King.

He had parted with the last hope of finding Him. The quest was over, and it had failed. But, even in that thought, accepted and embraced, there was peace. It was not resignation. It was not submission. It was something more profound and searching.He knew that all was well, because he had done the best that he could, from day to day. He had been true to the light that had been given to him. But he knew that even if he could live his earthly life over again, it could not be otherwise than it had been. He lay breathless and pale, with his gray head resting on the young girl's shoulder, as she bent over him, fearing that he was dead, there came a voice through the twilight, 'Peace be with you Artaban. When I was hungry you gave me food. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was distressed you comforted me. As often as you did this for the least of my children , you did them for me'.

His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The other Wise Man had found his King.

Now ...think...did not the wiseman, Artaban, give his gifts to the King because he had cared for those who needed his gifts?

Christmas is soon upon us. have you given any thought about your gift giving this year? Will it be exchange time...giving to people who are able to give back to you? Or will it be an honest act of real giving? How about giving to people who can't give back? I know of a family who pool their "gift" giving money every other year, and give it to a needy family as their Christmas. Just a thought.

The King will reply. "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me" (Matt. 25:40)

- BY HENRY VAN DYKE

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