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“I can dance! I can jump! I can run! I can work! I can play!” so sings the ecstatic Amahl, the lame shepherd boy, in Gian Carlo Menotti’s one-act opera for children of all ages, Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951).

Set in Bethlehem, a fiery star, “as big as a window,” lures Amahl into the December hills where he pipes his heart out, one melody after another. An impossible dreamer, he frequently frustrates his widowed mother, further impoverished by the recent sale of their sheep. Piercing cold, hunger, no fire in their hearth, only sleep’s oblivion keeps death at bay. However, from out of the night emerge Melchior, Kaspar, and Balthazar, kings/astrologers and their page, seeking lodging in this widow’s hovel. Stories of their star-quest for another king quicken Amahl. Like their visitors, he will bring a gift, his crutch, all that he owns. In that decision, his withered leg throbs with new wholeness. He stands tall. He will have a life. He sings.

What was it that compelled Amahl to disregard the need for his crutch, without which he remained immobile, this reckless heart-gesture that gave its all? What did he see in that moment? What empowerment that changed everything?

Unfortunately, many of us still hold on to crutches, of whatever stripe, to inch us through challenges, to enhance functioning, to conceal our human foibles from others and ourselves. What would it be like to stride free from such hobbling compulsions and enjoy the sun’s warmth on our backs?

Perhaps in 2019, we’ll find out. May it be a very Happy New Year for you and your loved ones!

 

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He was a humble man, soft-spoken, given to reflection. He worked hard—his hands calloused by his tools and bronzed by the sun. Unjust taxes robbed him of financial security, and in the coolness of the evening he sought solace in the Book of Psalms. How well he understood the centuries-old cry, “To you, Yahweh, I lift my soul, O my God. I rely on you. Do not let my enemies gloat over me.”

He never complained. Mourning doves still hooo-hooo-ho-hoood in the yard surrounding his one-room rock and stucco house. Goats still gave their milk by his latch-door. Greening fields afforded hope for the harvest.

But he was lonely. Stories of a comely woman in the neighboring village stirred his imagination; it was if he heard her song. He would go see her, his sandeled feet spirited along miles of dusty roads. Rarely did he stop to rest.

She, too, had been waiting for him in her courtyard as she combed flax and watched the sun shadow the distant hills across from her. Yet, seemingly insurmountable difficulties rocked their betrothal. Stunned, he waited—said nothing—prayed—and begged for a dream. And direction did come. They married and later gave birth to their firstborn son; his feet drew tender-hallowing from the new father as he wondered.

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The name of this humble man was Joseph of Nazareth, a hardscrabble town in Galilee.

Merry Christmas!

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