Sunday, January 2, 2011

January 2 Sermon (2 Christmas)

“Wise men still seek him.”
I’ve seen this on shirts and on billboards, it reminds us of the feast of the Epiphany, of magi, wise men of the east who come seeking the Christ child. And it calls us to seek him out in our lives. They each brought their gifts: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Each a symbol. Each a connection to the life that Jesus was going to live. A life Jesus calls us to seek. And there is a legend, a story from over a century ago, that tells us about a fourth wise man, whose name was Artaban, who also sought out Jesus.

(excerpts from “The Other Wise Man” by Henry Van Dyke, 1896)
He travelled from Persia to meet the other magi, carrying with him his gift for the new King - three precious jewels - a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl. On his way Artaban met an old Jew by the roadside, who was nearly dying from fever. He decided to stay with the sick man until he was well, he couldn’t leave him to die and so he missed the other three wise men who completed their journey to Bethlehem. The Jew told Artaban that the prophets said that the King would be born in Bethlehem . To make such a journey it was necessary to form a caravan and buy expensive supplies and equipment. So Artaban sold his costly sapphire to raise money and he set out for Bethlehem.

When he arrived in Bethlehem and made enquiries he was told that the other wise men had left 3 days before. A young mother told him that the family he was seeking had fled and that Bethlehem was in fear of King Herod. While Artaban was in the town, the soldiers arrived with orders to kill all the baby boys. The young mother was very frightened for her young son and when the captain of the soldiers ordered the child to be killed, Artaban came to the rescue and gave his ruby to the soldiers to save the boy. Artaban sought for the King for many years, although he only had one of his gifts left - the pearl.

Finally, after 30 years of searching, he came to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. The city was buzzing with talk about the man named Jesus who claimed to be the son of God and who was to be crucified. Artaban wondered whether he could use his last jewel to save the life of this man, Jesus. But as he hurried through the streets of the city, Artaban came across a young girl who was crying. She told Artaban she was crying because she was going to be sold into slavery to pay her father’s debts. Artaban could not pass by and leave the girl for slavery. He took the pearl and laid it in the hand of the girl and said "Daughter, this is the ransom. It is the last of my treasures which I had hoped to keep for the King." While he spoke, the darkness of the sky thickened and the shuddering tremors of an earthquake ran through the ground. The houses rocked. The soldiers fled in terror. Artaban sank beside a protecting wall. What had he to fear? What had he to hope for? He had given away the last of his tribute to the King. The quest was over and he had failed.

What else mattered? The earthquake quivered beneath him. A heavy tile, shaken from a roof, fell and struck him. He lay breathless and pale. Then there came a still small voice through the twilight It was like distant music. The rescued girl leaned over him and heard him say, "Not so, my Lord; for when saw I thee 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? Thirty-three years have I looked for thee; but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered unto thee, my King."

The sweet voice came again, "Verily I say unto thee, that inasmuch as thou hast 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 face of Artaban as one long, last breath exhaled gently from his lips. His journey was ended. His treasure accepted. The Other Wise Man had found the King.
His precious gifts for the King had been sold, or given away, to help others on his long journey and through such generosity, Artaban had worshiped his King and served him by using the gifts he had to help other people. Now its up to us, To use our gifts. To seek Christ who is still all around us. In the great words of Howard Thurman:
"When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make music with the heart”
As we remember Artaban's story in our hearts, may we radiate the Light of Christ, every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say, by sharing our gifts with the world. For it is then the work of Christmas has begun in us. Amen.

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