One of the intriguing accounts surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ is the story of the three wise men, or magi, who traveled from the East to bring him gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. Paramhansa Yogananda tells us that these three wise men were, in fact, Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar in earlier incarnations, and that later in his life Jesus traveled to India to return their visit.
One of my favorite tales told at Christmastime is called “The Story of the Other Wise Man.” I’d like to share it with you as a gift, and hope that it brings you as much inspiration as it does me.
The story goes that at the time of Christ’s birth there was a fourth wise man who was also watching the skies and knew that a great enlightened being was about to appear on earth. He was in communion with the other magi, and they agreed to meet at a designated spot when a special star appeared. Together then they would travel across the desert to Jerusalem, where they believed the “Son of God” would appear.
In preparation, the fourth wise man sold all of his possessions and bought three beautiful gems to offer as gifts to the Christ child: a brilliant blue sapphire, a radiant red ruby, and a pure white pearl. Finally the foretold evening arrived, and a star of heavenly power, majesty, and light appeared in the sky. Tucking his jewels carefully into his tunic, and jumping onto his horse, he took off at great speed to meet the other magi at the agreed-upon place.
The distance was great, but he and his horse journeyed determinedly on for days. Finally, with only a few hours left to reach the meeting place on time, he stopped briefly at an oasis to take some water. In the darkness, the wise man heard moaning nearby, and found an old man who lay ill. Torn between the need to press on and the desire to help, he decided to delay his onward journey briefly to aid this stranger in need.
He gave him water and healing herbs, and as the man’s strength began to return, he also offered him his bread and wine. Miraculously the man recovered, and offered these unexpected words: “What you are seeking will not be found in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem.”
With great urgency the wise man made for the meeting place, only to find that the three other magi had already departed, leaving him this note: “We couldn’t wait any longer. Follow us across the desert.” By now, his horse was exhausted and his supplies were gone, so to continue his journey he was forced to make for a nearby town. There he reluctantly sold the sapphire to purchase camels and food for the trip through the desert to Bethlehem.
After great effort, he finally arrived on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and stopped at a small cluster of sheds. From one of the dwellings he heard the cooing of a mother and child, so he eagerly knocked on the door and was invited to enter. There he found a young mother and baby, and though they were clearly not the ones he was seeking, the mother offered him this news: “Three days ago three strangers from afar stopped at a nearby shed where Joseph of Nazareth, his wife, Mary, and their newborn son had taken refuge. They presented the child with gifts, and then disappeared. Joseph and Mary also fled the next day to escape the persecution by the Roman soldiers. Rumor has it that they went to Egypt.”
The young woman kindly offered the tired stranger what little food she had. Then suddenly there was a scream from outside: “The soldiers are killing all the Jewish children!” At the sound of a loud pounding on the door, the mother clutched her child and cowered in a dark corner. Though again torn about what to do, the fourth wise man opened the door, and said to the soldier who held a sword dripping with blood, “There is no one here but me. This ruby would convince any soldier that he should move on.” Greedily snatching the gem, the man strode off.
Then with unexpected insight, the young mother told him, “The king you are looking for will not be found in palaces, but among the poor, needy, and downcast.”
Thus began years of searching — throughout Egypt and Israel — but never did he find what he was seeking. He did, however, find many to help: He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and comforted the rejected. Thirty-three years passed in this way, and the fourth wise man had grown worn and weary when he finally arrived in Jerusalem for the last time in search of his King.
There he found great agitation in the streets, and throngs of people surging toward something outside the city. When the weary seeker asked what was happening, he was told, “There is to be an execution on Golgotha: two thieves and a man named Jesus of Nazareth whom some call “King of the Jews.”
The wise man was stunned. “This must be the one I have been seeking,” he thought. “Maybe I can use my last gift, the pearl, to buy his freedom.” But as he began to follow the crowd up the streets to Golgotha, he heard a scream, and saw a young woman being dragged away by some soldiers. She was able to break free for a moment and run to the old wise man begging for his help. Once again overcoming his own inner conflict, he gave the soldiers the pure white pearl to buy the girl’s freedom.
Then the sky darkened, lightning flashed, and the earth itself convulsed. A loosened stone fell from a building, and struck the old man on the head. Dazed, he stumbled, but the young girl caught him in her arms and lowered his head onto her lap. She looked at his worn face, and was amazed to see that suddenly it had become transfigured with light. With a far-off gaze, he said in a faint voice, “Not so, my Lord! For when did I see thee hungered, and feed thee? Or thirsty, and give thee drink? Three-and-thirty years have I looked for thee; but I have never seen thy face, nor ministered to thee, my King.” Then a voice of divine power spoke, and even the young woman heard it.
Who is this fourth wise man, and what were the words he heard? In these times we see all around us hungry, displaced children, and homeless people who have lost everything. We, who are seeking Christ consciousness, are that fourth wise man. Humanity’s need is great now, and we are being given the opportunity to alleviate people’s suffering in many different ways. When we willingly offer compassion and comfort to others, we, too, may find what we are seeking, and hear the same words that wise man did: “Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto Me.”
May the blessings of God, Christ, and Guru be with you in this holy season.