The Other Wise Man Story

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Celebrating the Epiphany of our Lord

On Sunday, January 6, 2019, we celebrated the Epiphany of our Lord at worship.  As part of this, Pastor David Tinker shared this abridged version of the famous story, The Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke.

There are numerous editions of the entire story available through book stores and online retailers.  Here is a link to one such version on Amazon.com.  Since there are many versions, you can see other options on that web site.

Here is the abridge version as shared at worship.  Thanks to Pastor Mark Gibbs of St. Michael Lutheran Church, Ottawa Lake, Michigan, for doing the abridgement of this classic tale.

 

The Other Wise Man

“The Other Wise Man” by Henry van Dyke is a powerful story for the Epiphany.  It was first published in 1895.  Today I present an abridged version.

In the days when Augustus Caesar was master of many kings and Herod reigned in Jerusalem, there lived among the mountains of Persia a certain man named Artaban, one of the Magi. Artaban, like his friends Caspar, Melchoir, and Balthasar, had observed the star and consulted the ancient prophecies regarding the coming child king. He sold all his belongings to purchase gifts for the child-King; a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl. Then he set out on a ten-day journey, to meet his friends, so together they might search for the King.

Time was short. If Artaban arrived too late, his friends would leave without him. Yet, he made good time and on the tenth day his goal was within his grasp.  Only three more hours of hard riding and he would make his rendezvous with his friends. But suddenly, he saw something before him and he reined his horse to a stop. 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 probably a Hebrew.  The chill of death was in his lean hand. Artaban turned away with a thought of pity. But as he turned, a long, faint, ghostly sigh came from the man’s lips. The bony fingers gripped the hem of the Magian’s robe and held him fast.

Artaban’s heart leapt to his throat, not with fear, but with a speechless resentment at the importunity of this blind delay.  If he lingered but for an hour his companions would think he had given up the journey. But if he went on now, the man would surely die…

Artaban turned back to the sick man. He stayed there and ministered to the man, for Magians are physician as well.

At last the man’s strength returned; he sat up and looked about him. “Who art thou?” he said, “and why hast thou sought me here to bring back my life?”

“I am Artaban the Magian, and I am going to Jerusalem in search of one who is to be born king of the Jews.”

The Jew raised his trembling hand solemnly to heaven.  “I have nothing to give thee in return – only this: that I can tell thee where the Messiah must be sought.  For our prophets said that he should be born not in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem of Judah.  May the Lord bring thee in safety to that place, because thou hast had pity upon the sick.”

Artaban pushed on, but alas, he arrived too late. His friends had left without him, leaving him only a note beneath a brick, saying he should purchase provisions and follow them across the desert.  And so he did. He sold his sapphire to purchase the caravan of camels to carry him across the sea of sand that lay before him. After many days, he arrived in the little village of Bethlehem.

The streets of the village seemed to be deserted.  From the open door of a 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 newborn child.  “But the travelers disappeared again,” she continued, “as suddenly as they had come. The man of Nazareth took the child and his mother, and fled away that same night secretly to Egypt.”

The young mother laid the baby in its cradle, and rose to minister to the wants of the strange guest that fate had brought into her house.  But suddenly there came a noise of a wild confusion in the streets of the village and a desperate cry: “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.  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 said in a low voice, “I am all alone in this place, 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 drop of blood.  The captain was amazed at the splendor of the gem. The pupils of his eyes expanded with desire. He stretched out his hand and took the ruby.  “March on!” he cried to his men.

Artaban reentered the cottage. He turned his face to the east and prayed, “God of truth, forgive my sin! I have said the thing that is not, to save the life of a child. And two of my gifts are gone.”

But the voice of the woman, weeping for joy in the shadow behind him, said very gently, “Because thou hast saved the life of my little one, may the Lord always bless thee.”

And so Artaban pushed on. Down into Egypt he traveled in search of the King. Still his search was to no avail as the King was nowhere to be found. While in Egypt he took counsel with a Hebrew rabbi.  The venerable man read aloud from the sacred scrolls the pathetic words which foretold the sufferings of the promised Messiah. “And remember, my son,” he said, “the King who thou seekest is not to be found among the rich and powerful. Those who seek him will do well to look among the poor and the lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed.”

Three and thirty years Artaban searched for the King. Worn and weary and ready to die he had come for the last time to Jerusalem.  It was the season of the Passover and the city was thronged with strangers. There had been a confusion of tongues in the narrow streets for many days.  But on this day a singular agitation was visible in the multitude. The clatter of sandals flowed unceasingly along the street that led to the Damascus gate.

Artaban inquired of a group of people nearby the cause of the tumult. “We are going,” they answered, “to the place called Golgotha, outside the city walls, where there is to be an execution.  Two famous robbers are to be crucified, and with them another, called Jesus of Nazareth, who has done many wonderful works among the people, so that they love him greatly.”

Artaban’s heart beat unsteadily with the excitement of old age. He said to himself, “It may be that I shall at last find the King, and in the hands of his enemies no less, and shall come in time to offer my pearl for his ransom before he dies.”  So the old man followed the multitude toward the Damascus gate of the city.

Just then, a troop of soldiers came down the street, dragging a young girl. Suddenly she broke from the hands of her tormentors, and threw herself at Artaban’s feet. “Have pity on me,” she cried, “and save me. My father is dead, and I am seized for his debts to be sold as a slave.”

Artaban trembled. It was the old conflict in his soul, which had come to him in the palm-grove of Persia and in the cottage at Bethlehem.  Twice the gift which he had consecrated to the worship of God had been drawn to the service of humanity. He took the pearl from his bosom and laid it in the hand of the slave-girl.  “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 deepened, and tremors ran through the earth. The walls of the houses rocked to and fro. Stones were loose and crashed into the street. The soldiers fled in terror, but Artaban and the girl whom he had ransomed crouched helpless beneath the wall of the Praetorium.  A heavy tile, shaken from the roof, fell and struck the old man on the temple. He lay breathless and pale, with his gray head resting on the girl’s shoulder, and blood trickling from the wound.

Then the old man’s lips began to move and the girl heard him say, “Not so, my Lord! For when saw I thee hungry and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked and clothed thee? Three and thirty years have I looked for thee, but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King.”

He ceased and there came a sound akin to a sweet voice. The maid heard it, very faint and far away. And it seemed as though she understood the words, “Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou has done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.”

A calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban.  A long breath of relief exhaled gently from his lips.  His journey was ended.  His treasures were accepted. The Other Wise Man had found the King.

 

 

Story: The Gift of the Magi – From January 5, 2014

By Pastor David Tinker.

This is the full text of the story which was shared in my sermon on Sunday, January 5, 2014.  I used a condensed version of the story as the opening illustration in my sermon on that day. 

 

This is a famous story by late 19th Century writer O. Henry (1862-1910)

THE GIFT OF THE MAGI

     One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing  implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

     There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

     While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

     In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr.  James Dillingham Young.”

     The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

     Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result.  Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

     There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a  pier-glass in an $8 flat. A  very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks.  Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

     Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass.  her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

     Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

     So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

     Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting.  Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

     “Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

     “I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

     Down rippled the brown cascade.

     “Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

     “Give it to me quick,” said Della.

     Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

     She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company.  Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

     When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.

     Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

     “If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl.  But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

     At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

     Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step     on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

     The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

     Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

     Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

     “Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

     “You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

     “Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

     Jim looked about the room curiously.

     “You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

     “You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you.  Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

     Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della.  For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

     Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

     “Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

     White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

     For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

     But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

     And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

     Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

     “Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch.  I want to see how it looks on it.”

     Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

     “Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

     The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.  But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.