Amahl and the Night Visitors was an opera made especially for television in New York in 1951. It’s the story about the Magi who stop on their way to Bethlehem at the hovel of a poor crippled boy named Amahl. When Amahl hears of their mysterious search for a child whom they call the infant king of the Jews, he is all ears wondering what kind of child this might be. He watches in awe as he sees the gifts the Magi are going to present to this child. He is disturbed that he has no proper gift of his own to offer him. But then it occurs to him that he can offer the only thing he has: his crutches. As he presents his crutches to the Magi to give to Jesus, he is healed miraculously. Overjoyed by this healing he wants to go with the Magi all the way to Bethlehem and finally gets permission from his mother to do so.
While you won’t find this story in the Bible, it nonetheless captures the spirit of Christmas. Like the infancy narratives themselves, this story gives us a foretaste of Jesus’ public life where he healed the lame and crippled and gave everyone a whole new purpose in life. Epiphany means manifestation and today we celebrate the fact that the light of Christ has come into the world and shone to all quarters of the globe, making everyone who receives this light into a new person – a true child of God.
Jesus is the Light of the world. While his light is of a far higher order, Judy Cannato in her book called ‘Radical Amazement’ uses the image of sunlight to illustrate the light of Christ. Our Earth is 4.7 billion years old and ever since the Sun has been shining forth light on our mother earth. However, for over a billion years the Earth could not capture that light and turn it into energy. It was wasted light. Then 3 billion years ago a simple primitive cell mutated and began to capture light from the Sun and convert it into food and oxygen. The process is known as photosynthesis. Almost all life on Earth today depends on this amazing process of photosynthesis. Take one look at our bulging forests and teeming oceans, not to speak of the endless variety of life forms that grace our planet. It all goes back to the wonderful process known as photosynthesis.
Something similar can be said of the light or grace of God. God has poured forth his loving-kindness to us creatures from time immemorial, but we did not have a proper receptor to receive that grace. Our flawed nature closed us off from the miraculous power of God’s grace. It was wasted on us. Then, in the fullness of time came Jesus, the divine one in human flesh. As divine he is the glory of God and a light for our paths. As human, he was fully able to receive the grace and loving-kindness of God in his heart and thereby allow that grace to transform him into a wonderful spiritual being. The Epiphany means that what is possible for Jesus is now possible for all of us. We too like Jesus are now enabled to become proper receptors of God’s grace. We too can now allow God’s grace to transform us and make us into spiritual children of God. Thanks to Jesus, God is now doing something new in us.
For this to happen, however, our cooperation is needed. Today’s gospel gives us two very different responses. Herod and the people of Jerusalem didn’t get it. Rather than receiving the light they were threatened by it. They were more interested in holding onto power. The fear of losing status drove Herod to a murderous campaign against the Holy Innocents. On the other hand, the Magi were drawn by the light of a star. They did not belong to the chosen people of God nor were they acquainted with the Bible. Yet they sensed there was something in the air, and were willing to set out on a long, hazardous journey, seeking for something they did not fully understand. Perhaps it was their thirst for something more that allowed them to be guided by that star which led them all the way to Bethlehem. Nor were they scandalized when they got there at the sight of Mary and Joseph in a cave with a new-born child. They knelt down immediately and worshipped the child, offering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (I guess men are not very practical in these matters. Wise women would have been far more hands-on, bringing them baby food, nappies and clothes!)
The Magi may have been well off but in their search for Jesus they became migrants who might never have arrived at Bethlehem were it not for hospitality along the way – if not Amahl, then people like Amahl who gave them shelter as they journeyed. While these migrants were on a spiritual search, think of the millions of migrants today seeking mere survival. And let’s remember that the Epiphany means all these migrants are our brothers and sisters who have a place in God’s plan.
Traditionally the Magi are understood to be of various ages and with different coloured skin. That’s what our church should be: an open community of faith, embracing people of all races and all ages. The gospel is for all; the church embraces all. No longer can we be a closed group, or a social club with hymns who happen to meet on Sundays.
The Magi are a people on the move. They are on a journey following the star of their hearts, which lead them directly to Jesus. The end of their journey is simply to offer their lives to the new-born Christ in worship. The Christian life is as simple, and yet as complicated as that. Faith is a journey where we risk surrendering and offering all that we have and all that we are to God. In this way, we allow the light of Jesus to enter our hearts.
When our planet was able to capture light from the Sun and change it into food and oxygen, an undreamt-of transformation took place making the earth a paradise teeming with life. Would that we too can capture the light of Jesus in our hearts and allow ourselves to be changed and transformed. On a spiritual level the transformation can only be greater as we would come to realise our true beauty as children of God formed in his image.
Sunday, January 8, 2017