An invitation to kneel in the muck of the stable and give all you have
Peter Seal, 3 January 2021
Isaiah 60: 1–6; Ephesians 3: 1–12; Matthew 2: 1–12
Once upon a time, a long time ago and far from here, there lived a shepherd boy called Amahl. He lived with his mother, an impoverished widow. Amahl himself is disabled and walks with a crutch. They are very poor and have almost no possessions. And now they are facing both cold and hunger in their nearly empty hut which serves as their home.
Three extraordinary and learned-looking men, on their way to Bethlehem, stop at the hut and ask to be taken in for the night. Amahl and his mother welcome them and their page as well they can. They are astonished at the splendour of their robes and the wealth of the gifts they are carrying with them.
Amahl’s mother realises that these three men who look like kings are looking for a newborn babe and that the expensive gifts are all destined for him; she becomes bitter and envious. She cannot understand why at least some of these gifts could not be given to her own child, who is so poor and so in need.
Under the cover of darkness, while the three men sleep, she steals some of their gold. But the page catches her red-handed. When later she explains to the Three Kings that she needs the gold to feed her starving child, they readily forgive her. With great tenderness they try to explain to her who this newborn child is, and how much he needs the love of every human being in order to build his kingdom. Touched by their words, the poor widow not only gives back the gold, but wishes she could add a gift of her own.
Amahl comes to her rescue. He impulsively hands the Three Kings his wooden crutch, his most precious possession, and in so doing he is miraculously cured of his lameness.
As dawn breaks, the three men, these kings, prepare to resume their journey. Amahl begs his mother to let him go with them. Finally she lets him go with them on their journey to Bethlehem, where together they adore the Christ child and they give thanks for his birth.
Who knows whether Amahl is simply a figment of imagination? What we do know is that the story of the magi contains great truths. With the Christmas nativity still a vivid picture in our minds, we take another look at the Christ child lying in an animal’s manger with his parents nearby. This, dear friends, is a compelling scene. It catches our eyes. It holds our attention. We cannot help ourselves being drawn in. We’re given the gift of being able to simply behold this timeless scene and let it live in our hearts.
Just by way of reminder, both of our churches are open every day. As John and I were preparing there was someone here sitting quietly, saying their prayers. Do come in the next few days and spend some time beholding this scene.
The shepherds have departed, their eyes full of wonder and moist with tears of delight at what they have seen; their hearts are burning within them. And then these visitors from the east arrive – the magi or wise men. The crucial message here is that the new life of Jesus, of the Christ child, is for everyone – for local shepherds and far-travelled wise and wealthy people.
The crucial message here is that the new life of Jesus, of the Christ child, is for everyone – for local shepherds and far-travelled wise and wealthy people.
We can imagine Amahl being with them, a young, impressionable teenager beginning to think about what life means, just like the teenagers of today. The magi have been kind to him. It’s his first journey away from his mother. He hopes she is okay. He can feel a stirring of excitement and expectancy about his life as he too kneels in the muck of the stable. And he gives all that he has: his crutch – a sign and a symbol, perhaps, of all for whom life is hard.
And then the innkeeper we imagine lingering at the door. He’s feeling good. Business has never been so brisk! He decides he likes censuses. Perhaps the innkeeper represents all for whom life is comfortable, or at least appears that way. He must get back to his work, but something makes him linger. This is no ordinary family, this is no ordinary birth. This is all very unusual. It’s a little unsettling – unsettling to his familiar routine and his normal set of expectations. And so the innkeeper goes back to his work, though a little reluctantly, for something has changed in him.
Dear friends, this immortal, eternal scene is for us all. I invite you to imagine yourself at the stable door, and what you find yourself feeling.
Here in Winchester, and beyond – thank you for joining us from beyond – we say goodbye to the year 2020 and to so many losses and so many sadnesses. But we reach expectantly because of the Christ child into a New Year.
We do this together. As we face the inevitable ongoing challenges of the next few winter months, we need one another perhaps more than we ever have before. Together, we are the Church; we are the body of Christ. Together we are strong, together we can be kind, together we are ever hopeful.
It is because of our faith that we can keep going, keep believing and keep looking forward expectantly. It’s the stable scene which we can hold before us as we too stand before that door.
In conclusion, individually, and together, we are bold enough to gaze at the infant Jesus. He is nothing less than God in human form. He’s the one who goes on living for us and goes on saying, ‘I’m on your side’. Amen.