Thursday, January 7, 2016

Feast of the Epiphany - Jan 6, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Reinaldo Martinez-Cubero, n/OHC

Epiphany - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Isaiah 60: 1-6    
Ephesians 3: 1-12    
Matthew 2: 1-12
Amahl and the Night Visitors
Having been born and raised in Puerto Rico, where today is a day of big celebration, this Feast of the Epiphany, or El día de los reyes, as we call it, has always had a very special place in my heart. On La víspera de reyes (the eve of the Epiphany), children in Puerto Rico cut grass and place it in a shoebox by their beds with another little container of water for the camels, and a wish list. The next morning the grass has been eaten, and there are presents by the bed. Los reyes will bypass your house if you are not asleep, so on Víspera de reyes children are motivated to go to bed early and fall asleep. I’ll never forget the night before día de reyes when I was awaken by some noise in my bedroom. Being the kind of young boy that I was, who always wanted to follow the rules, I was instantly terrified that the wise men would discover that I was awake. I kept my eyes very tightly shut and did not move. I must have fallen back asleep right away since I don’t remember anything else, and the next day I was able to enjoy my presents.

In my adult life as a performer, teacher, and theatre director, the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian-Carlo Menotti is the opera I have performed most. I have trained children for the role of Amahl, and have also produced and directed the opera several times. In the opera, Amahl, a boy who can walk only with a crutch, and his mother live in ancient times in much poverty. One night, three splendidly dressed kings appear at their door. They are on a long journey to bring gifts to a wondrous child and they ask if they can rest at their house. The mother welcomes them, and goes to fetch firewood. Amahl seizes the opportunity to speak with the kings. King Balthazar answers Amahl's questions about his life as a king, and then wants to know about Amahl. Amahl responds that he was once a shepherd, but his mother had to sell his sheep. Now he and his mother will have to go begging. Amahl then talks with King Kaspar, who is childlike, eccentric, and a bit deaf. Kaspar shows Amahl his box of magic stones, beads, and licorice. Later, while all are asleep, the mother attempts to steal for her son some of the gold that was meant for the Christ child. She is thwarted by the kings' page. When the page is grabbing the mother, Amahl attacks him. Seeing Amahl's weak defense of his mother, and understanding the motives for the attempted theft, King Melchior says she may keep the gold. The Holy Child will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. The mother says she has waited all her life for such a king and asks the kings to take back the gold. She wishes to send a gift but has nothing to send. Amahl, too, has nothing to give to the Child except his crutch. When he offers it to the kings, his leg miraculously heals. He asks his mother if he can go with the three kings so he can present his offering to the child himself. The opera ends as Amahl bids farewell to his mother, and leaves with the kings.

During the past two weeks it has been quite fun to study the sources for the traditions from my childhood, and the inspiration for the many variations of the legend of the wise men, and the many beautiful stories they have inspired. In addition to the readings we heard this morning, I have read many commentaries, and exegeses, and watched really fascinating documentaries. But I have to say that I got very little from all of that that I would want to share this morning. What is in my heart, however, came to me as I was hiking last Saturday. It was not a long hike, but it was longer and a bit more difficult than I was expecting. And then, I found the overlook of the beautiful Hudson valley and the river, and I praised God and gave thanks. I started thinking about that journey in the story of the wise men. A journey into the unknown to find and pay homage to a baby the stars have told them is to be king of a culture and religion not their own! There is a significant lesson in that. Astrologers that follow the constellations of the stars and pay attention to their dreams! I love it! All of a sudden these lessons from Isaiah and from Matthew were speaking to me about the light, and how our lives are journeys, often in the dark, searching for that light.

Speaking during difficult days when the Babylonian exiles had returned to Jerusalem to find the place still pretty much a ruin, and the ancient glories of Israel a distant and painful memory, Isaiah comes full of hope and joy for a bright future. "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you." Likewise, we today are called to get up and be in relationship with this light that is God’s love breaking into a world that has been covered in darkness.

In Isaiah we read "Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." This is the same light from which all things come. In the Christ Child we see the light of God. Everything in the universe shines because God is at the heart of it. The epiphany story invites us to open our eyes to the light that is everywhere, even beyond our inherited boundaries. We need the light that comes from other cultures, and nations, and religions as much as the species of the earth need one another to be whole. Our reading from Isaiah this morning says: “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.” (A better translation from the Hebrew is: “your heart shall enlarge” or “your heart shall stretch”). The light of God always stretches our hearts in such a way as to open them to those who are ‘other’ and different. Without such a stretching, we cannot receive those who are not like us. Hearing and receiving what this verse implies could help the current, unfortunate debates in this country about refugees, and immigrants.

The lesson from Matthew’s Gospel also is a story about finding light way beyond the boundaries of what is familiar to us. It offers us an archetypal journey. We are invited to embark on that journey, however long or difficult. We are invited to open ourselves to wonder along the way. We are invited to find that star that shines in the darkness of unknowing, and to follow it. We are invited to kneel and give praise when we encounter the sacred in the most ordinary of places. We are invited to carry our gifts, our treasures, no matter how small or insignificant we think they are (like Amahl’s crutch) and give them freely because that heals us. We are invited to listen to the wisdom of our dreams. And when we need to, we are invited to take another road. Feliz día de los reyes! 

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