Place: Near Bethelehem
Time: The first century, just after the birth of Christ
Amahl, a disabled boy who can walk only with a crutch, has a problem with telling tall tales. He is sitting outside playing his shepherd's pipe when his mother calls for him. After much persuasion, he enters the house but his mother does not believe him when he tells her there is an amazing star "as big as a window" outside over their roof.
Later that night, Amahl's mother weeps, praying that Amahl not become a beggar. After bedtime, there is a knock at the door and the mother tells Amahl to go see who it is. He is amazed when he sees three splendidly dressed kings (the Magi). At first the mother does not believe Amahl, but when she goes to the door to see for herself, she is stunned. The Three Kings tell the mother and Amahl they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous Child and they would like to rest at their house, to which the mother agrees saying that all she can offer is "a cold fireplace and a bed of straw". The mother goes to fetch firewood, and Amahl seizes the opportunity to speak with the kings. King Balthazar answers Amahl's questions about his life as a king and asks what Amahl does. 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, and offers Amahl some of the candy. The mother returns and tells Amahl to not be a nuisance. He defends himself, saying "They kept asking me questions," when of course it has in fact been Amahl asking the kings questions. Amahl is told to go fetch the neighbors so the kings may be fed and entertained properly.
After the neighbors have left and the kings are resting, the mother attempts to steal for her son some of the kings' gold that was meant for the Christ child. She is thwarted by the kings' page. When Amahl wakes to find the page grabbing his mother, he 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 as 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 the Child except his crutch. When he offers it to the kings, his leg is miraculously healed. With permission from his mother, he leaves with the kings to see the Child and give his crutch in thanks for being healed.