Reading time: 5 minutes
Henry van Dyke wrote a short story about a fourth magi, who he named Artaban, and his journey of wanting to join with the other magi as they went in search of the promised Messiah. In the story, after Artaban was alerted by the others of their upcoming journey, he tells his fellow maji that he will be joining them. All of them, looking at him “with strange and alien eyes” and “a veil of doubt and mistrust over their faces” looked at him and told him, one by one, why this journey was not for them and they would not come with him.
Abgarus, who loved Artaban the most was also very older. He said his heart would be a companion with him on the trip, but also these words: “My son, it may be that the light of truth is in this sign...or it may be that it is only a shadow of the light...and he who follows it will have only a long pilgrimage and an empty search. But it is better to follow even the shadow of the best than to remain content with the worst. And those who would see wonderful things must often be ready to travel alone.”
Artaban went to lay down while staring out at the stars. What some of his friends said was a lofty dream from spending too much time looking at the stars, that dream, that hope, was something more for Artaban. As he lay there, he saw it again, the sign in the sky and he knew he must go, even if alone.
A child was promised. One who would be a great light - brighter than what lit the sky that the magi studied.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty Hero, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” Isaiah 9:6-7
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. Not ours here in America, or any other country that roams the earth. Of God’s kingdom only will there be no end. Jürgen Moltmann, a German Protestant theologian, reminds us that the “zeal of the Lord” is the “zeal of his ardent love.” “There is no other initiative we can seize with absolute assurance, for ourselves or for other people. There is no other zeal for the liberation of the world in which we can place a certain hope.”
God alone establishes peace and upholds it. He alone is the Liberator of all oppression. He alone gives justice.
“But how can peace go together with justice?” Moltmann asks. “What we are familiar with is generally peace based on injustice, and justice based on conflict. The life of justice is struggle. Among us, peace and justice are divided by the struggle for power. The so-called ‘law of the strongest’ destroys justice and right. The weakness of the peacemakers makes peace fragile. It is only in the zeal of love that what power has separated can be put together again: in a just peace and in the right to peace. This love does not mean accepting breaches of justice ‘for the sake of peace,’ as we say. But it does not mean, either, breaking someone else’s peace for the sake of our own rights.”
Are we dreaming, as van Dyke’s Artaban did looking at the stars, thinking that no way this is possible today? Are we Artaban yearning for something more? Are we Abgarus fueling hope in others and encouraging them along their way? Or are we the other magi filled only with doubt and mistrust, saying this isn’t for us and we will not go? Saying we will not change where we are and what we are doing? Saying what we believe now, what we see now, is good enough?
When actually what waits for us when we move from only dreaming to actually believing and going where God leads, is new life and freedom and liberation and justice and peace. We say to one another, “well I hope this time will be different.” But what if it is different now! The kingdom of God is near, He is with us even now! Christ was that child that was promised. While he died on the Cross, that doesn’t mean that his reign ended. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…from this time forth and forevermore.” We are living in that forevermore! Yesterday, right now, and tomorrow, he rules. He reigns. Each day we breath, waiting for His return, his kingdom grows closer and closer to us. But that doesn’t mean we wait for his return and then do the work. We will miss it if we do this. We are to walk in and show his kingdom to others, now, today! We are called to bring others with us. We have the power of the biggest Liberator ever, present with us.
Jürgen Moltmann, “The liberator is already present and his power is already among us. We can follow him, even today making visible something of the peace, liberty, and righteousness of the kingdom that he will complete. It is no longer impossible. It has become possible for us in fellowship with him. Let us share in his new creation of the world and - born again to a living hope - live as new men and women. The zeal of the Lord be with us all.”
Like Artaban, we have seen a great light. May we tell of that Light to others, asking them to come with us. And even if we are only met with rejection and strange looks?
May we be willing to go alone.
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