We end our Christmas reading today with The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke. If you haven’t read it, please do. Know that it’s a bit longer than the other stories we’ve read, but really not that much longer :). Also, know that (in my opinion) the first section was a tiny bit boring and I wondered why in heaven’s name I had chosen it and feared there would be not one comment. Not one.
But since I told y’all to read it, I kept reading and hoped I would have something to say other than, “Well, that was boring and I’m sorry.”
I bring you tiding of good news—this story is worth reading! I actually teared up by the end and haven’t done that with any of the stories. I’m going to babble for a bit about the background so you won’t read any spoiler alerts.
Henry Van Dyke (November 10, 1852 – April 10, 1933) was an American author, educator, and clergyman.
A few interesting facts (from wikipedia)
- Van Dyke chaired the committee that wrote the first Presbyterian printed liturgy, The Book of Common Worship of 1906.
- In 1908–09 Dr. van Dyke was a lecturer at the University of Paris.
- Similar to the author from last week’s story (Thomas Nelson Page), Van Dyke was appointed by Woodrow Wilson to be the Ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1913. Van Dyke and Wilson were friends and had gone to Princeton together. I did not know this about WWI: “Americans all around Europe rushed to Holland as a place of refuge. Although inexperienced as an ambassador, van Dyke conducted himself with the skill of a trained diplomat, maintaining the rights of Americans in Europe and organizing work for their relief.”
- Finally, he was a friend to Helen Keller.
History is so interesting!
Okay, before I derail myself and go off on a soap box about history, I also learned a bit about today’s story. It turns out, though I had never heard of it, it’s kind of famous.
- A television adaptation of the story was presented on the Hallmark Hall of Fame show in 1953. I realize this might only make Americans perk up. If you don’t know, Hallmark Hall of Fame made for TV movies are amazing until you find them sappy. The commercials though, always, and I mean always, tear jerkers. Love them. I didn’t know Hallmark movies went all the way back to 1953!
- A full length (73 minutes) TV movie, titled “The Fourth Wise Man”, starring Martin Sheen, was broadcast on 30 March 1985. Where was I?!!
Now, for the story. The real story that Van Dyke wrote, although now I’m thinking of Martin Sheen. I’ve already said I found the first bit a bit slow. But what I did love, is it got me thinking about the world Jesus was born into, you know, the actual first Christmas. The other stories we’ve read were placed in setting more familiar to me, this one, however, required me to picture a world quite different from mine.
I’d love to hear from any of you who have lived in or visited that part of the world. How did the descriptions feel to you? How much has changed over the years?
I knew when Artaban bought three gifts, they were somehow going to be significant and I guessed how they might fit in with the symbolically significant frankincense, gold, and myrrh. How about you? How accurate were your guesses (I was one for three). It distressed me as I read the various excuses people gave for why they wouldn’t travel with Artaban to meet up with the other magi and hunt for The King. But as Christmas time, it probably distresses all of us to think of friends and family members who also won’t follow the Christ child today.
As Artaban was on his way and stopped to helped the dying Jew, I wondered which of his jewels he’d have to sell. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but the Sapphire being blue seemed to symbolize the water he’d need to cross the desert.
When he got to Bethlehem, and saw the woman with the baby, at first I thought it was Mary! and he’d found Jesus! But then to hear about the magi leaving so strangely in the night and Mary, Joseph, and Jesus leaving for Egypt, it clicked, this baby is going to be killed! Help them! I know what’s coming. The death of all the innocent children became painfully real. When the ruby Artaban offered was described as a “droplet of blood” I though of how he was willing to help the elderly and now the young innocent.
I didn’t see the thirty three year twist coming—though I’ve watched enough Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, it shouldn’t have been major shock. To have given so much time and effort to searching for something (the king) and guarding your tribute (the pearl of great cost) only to part with it in the end—albeit for an honorable reason—made me wonder how many of us feel like we can relate a little too much.
I know the pearl of great price in the bible refers to the Kingdom of God, but in this story, I think it can also symbolize something precious. What is your pearl of great price God has asked (or maybe forced your hand a bit) to give to help others at significant cost to yourself?
“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.”
I loved the ending. The reminder that Jesus’ perspective is so often not ours and that service to him can look so different than I imagine. I’m thankful for that and need to keep hearing that message again and again.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this story! And next week we’ll share some of our favorite reads from 2015.
See you in the comments!
Next week we’ll share our top reads from 2015! Fun! I love new suggestions. And January is our spiritual memoir month. Join us for Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines
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