The Three Kings feast ends the Christmas season this Sunday. “Epiphany” means manifestation. And the gospel read is that of the Magi adoring the Child, as first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.
Was there a Fourth Magi?, asks Henry Van Dyke. Arbatan from Persia arrived late and missed the Child. Or did he?. Excepts: Artaban raced to join the other Magi, bearing gifts to the Child: a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl. At an oasis, he came across an ill Hebrew exile. Bony fingers closed on the hem of robe, as he turned to leave. Should he help — and miss the quest of a lifetime?
He moistened the man’s brow and mouth. Magis were physicians as well as astrologers. He mixed medicine. Hour after hour, he labored as a skillful healer of disease. And at last, the man’s strength returned.
The Jew raised a trembling hand and whispered: “I have nothing to give you in return. But I can tell you the Messiah must be sought, not in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem.”
There was no sign of the three Magi when Arbatan arrived. But there was a parchment: “Follow us across the desert.”
Artaban sold one of his jewels in the nearest town, and bought a camel and provisions. He arrived in Bethlehem. All was eerily quiet.
In a cottage, a young mother hushing her baby, told him of kingly-looking men who arrived, then went to where Joseph lodged with Mary, and Child “But they disappeared as suddenly as they had come. And the man of Nazareth took the babe and his wife and fled that same night secretly. And it was whispered that they fled to Egypt. “
Suddenly, there was shrieking of women’s voices and clanging of swords: “The soldiers of Herod are killing our children!” The terrified mother’s face blanched. Blocking the door, Artaban showed the centurion the ruby who snatched it, telling his men. “March on! There is no child here.”
“You have saved my child,” the woman said. “May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; may the Lord lift up His face upon you and give you peace.”
And for the next 33 years, the Fourth Magi searched from place to place, Worn and weary, he came for the last time to Jerusalem. It was the Passover.
There was an uproar. “We are going“ to Golgotha, outside the city walls,” people said. “Haven’t you heard? Two thieves are to be crucified, and with them another, called Jesus of Nazareth who healed the sick and multiplied the loaves.”
So. the old man limped after the crowd. Then, soldiers came down the street, dragging a young girl. She suddenly broke loose from the soldiers and threw herself at the Magi’s feet.
“Have pity on me,”, I am seized for debts to be sold as a slave.” Artaban trembled, then handed her his last jewel. “This is your ransom, daughter!”
While he spoke, the darkness of the sky thickened, and tremors ran through the earth. The soldiers fled. Artaban and the girl, whom he had ransomed, crouched helpless, beneath the Praetorium wall.
A heavy tile, from the roof, fell and struck the old man. As she bent over Artaban, sound came through the dust, small and still, like music in which the notes are clear but the words are lost. The girl turned her head to see if someone had spoken But she saw no one.
The old man’s lips moved. Clearly he heard a voice and she cupped her ear to hear Artaban whisper: “Not so, my Lord. For when did I see you??”
He stopped talking and the voice came again. This time, the girl heard it, very faint. But now she too understood the words. She heard: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
The Fourth Magi found his King.