No gift under the tree could have brought more pleasure as I watched the scene unfold. The seven of us sat in a semicircle on the floor, with little ones clad in Christmas pajamas snuggled in our laps. The ambience was everything you would imagine a Christmas Eve to be, and I was desperate to absorb every blissful second.
The lights were low, tree lights sparkled, and soft music played in the background. We waited in anticipation as our son took out a book to read in his own home with his own family what we had so many Christmases read with ours…The Other Wise Man.
Traditions are those intangibles we take with us wherever we go. They give definition and punctuation to seasons and situations. They give clarity, for me, even comfort. Traditions help make a house a home, a family a fold. As I have moved my family from country to country, traditions have helped provide for this pilgrim a much-needed thread of continuity.
Over the course of a lifetime, some family traditions wither, fizzle and fade. That’s just fine. Others fall by the wayside, outgrown in a growing family.
Then… there are those traditions that become classics. Like antiques, they grow more precious with the passing of time, as they are treasured and passed down from generation to generation. For our family, the reading of The Other Wise Man is such a classic.
As David opened the cover, I thought back over the life of Artaban, the story’s main character. In Henry Van Dyke’s fictional account, Artaban is the Fourth Magi who also saw the star. “The King is coming, and I will go to meet Him.” Central to the narrative are three gems that Artaban possessed: a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl. He urgently set out to follow the guidance of heaven’s light, but was deterred and thus denied, or so it seemed, the completion of his journey.
Artaban has traveled with us from The Black Forest of Germany, through Hungary, and now to the U.S. He has crisscrossed national borders, resided in multiple homes, and withstood transatlantic voyages. We can’t imagine Christmas without him; he always has something to teach us.
In January, he is packed away with ornaments, nativity scenes, Christmas china, and a growing collection of stockings. He is stored away in some random box in the basement where he is almost forgotten.
When Advent returns and the decorations reappear, so does Artaban. With him comes our time-honored tradition, reading our treasured copy of The Other Wise Man. Year after year, children and adults alike are captivated by the significance of a life devoted to Christ. In his humanness we see holiness.
Understandably you may ask, “What does it mean?” The author himself has said, “If the meaning could be put into a sentence there would be no need of telling the story.” Besides being a beautiful piece of literature, it is literature with a lesson.
The true joy of the story is for you to discover. If your audience is young, the shortened and edited version retold by Pamela Kennedy is outstanding. I suggest you treat yourself and those you love to a new tradition, and read The Other Wise Man.
Ah, it is almost Christmas. May Our Lord Jesus Himself thoroughly bless you and yours as you make memories and celebrate the wonder of His birth.