Emma Lazarus’ poem, written in 1883 and engraved twenty years later on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour, describes that huge figure as ‘Mother of Exiles’ and puts these words on her silent lips:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses struggling to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
The prophet Isaiah foretells the gathering in Jerusalem not just of her exiled sons and daughters, but of people and kings from all nations, bringing with them gifts and riches of all kinds.
Both these societies, the United States at the turn of the twentieth century and God’s chosen people looking forward to the restoration of Jerusalem twenty-five centuries earlier, shared two convictions: they believed they had something wonderful to offer to anyone who wanted to come and share it, and they valued the gifts and talents that these new arrivals would bring with them.
What a contrast to the prevailing attitude in our own society today, which has so little confidence in the values we hold and such fear of those who are coming in great numbers because they admire and aspire to those things we value so little, like freedom, education and healthcare.
Pope Francis teaches us, in his letter ‘Our Common Home’, to give praise and thanks to God for the wonders of creation and to be willing to share those gifts equally with all people. This means accepting that those who are currently using a larger share of those God-given gifts will have to make sacrifices for the common good. It also means accepting that people are more important than things and that every human person, given the chance, can make a positive contribution to the good of all. The havoc that Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank have brought to the lives of people in our own country, should remind us of the millions of people who are constantly in danger because of the effects we are having on the delicate balance of God’s creation.
The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the Good News that the God loves the whole world and wants all nations to live as one family, sharing the good things of creation in peace. Let this be our prayer for each other in 2016.