Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Shadows and Light by Marcia Lee Laycock

We had to stoop low to enter the church through a portal in the thick stone wall. The chill of the interior was warmed by the hum of voices, some chanting prayers, some murmuring as tourists wandered about the interior. Our guide pointed out the architecture and mosaics unearthed on the floors as he led us through narrow corridors and down warn stone steps toward the focal point of the cathedral. This was, in the minds of many of the pilgrims lined up to enter, the birth place of Christ, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The "manger" had been made into an ornate shrine, a silver star inlaid into the stone floor, marking the place where the babe was laid. Coloured glass oil lamps hung from above on golden chains and heavy draperies surrounded the spot. Golden icons of Christ and various saints rimmed the grotto.

A monk knelt to pray at the entrance to the stone stable opposite, and a pilgrim all but crawled into the manger itself, bending low to kiss the star. Candles burned down to mounds of wax at every turn. The dim lighting seemed appropriate as many more pilgrims wove their way by, descending the stone stairs, then climbing back out again to emerge in the sanctuary where confessional booths were labelled with various languages - English, French, German, Dutch, Arabic.

I could not help but have a deep sense of sadness as I watched. I could not help but see the shadows in a place that should have been full of light. Many of the paintings on the walls were blackened by the smoke from oil lamps and candles. Mosaics and frescoes were crumbling. That too seemed fitting. For it seemed the devotion of many of these people was misplaced. They attributed power to relics of wood and cloth, wept at the sight of a shrine built by human hands, and prayed to saints long dead and powerless to help them.

And yet, the focus was still Christ. And yet, the power of God does break through, in spite of every misconception, every dimness of thought and theory, in spite of the inherent corruption of man and the shadows he creates. For the story of His birth is true, the example of His life undeniable and the plan of His salvation accomplished. For centuries people have worshipped Him and His church has been established forever, "and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18b).

The light of Christ will shine, even in ancient dim cathedrals. It shines in the hearts of believers and in the work they do in His name all over the world. Though our motives are sometimes suspect and our understanding limited, His grace and mercy are pure and powerful. The purposes of God, though accomplished by flawed servants, are moved forward as He establishes His kingdom on this earth. The light does dispel the darkness. The shadows do flee away.

All glory to Him, all honour to Him, all praise to His name.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Psalms of Ascent

Psalms of Ascent

Psalm 124 rang with poignancy and prophecy as I read it this morning.
My husband and I have just returned from Israel. The experience of being there is overwhelming in many ways. You are constantly reminded of the country’s history and its future, constantly reminded of God’s hand at work. Having read Epicentre, by Joel Rosenberg, just before going there, the echoes of past, present and future were everywhere.

Our tour guide, a very knowledgeable and respectful man named Moshe (Moses), often referred to a phrase that rings with determination in the Jewish mind – “Never again.” Never again will the Jews be persecuted in the way they were during WW2; never again will the Jews allow their people to be isolated and abandoned. Men like Moshe believe it is their military might and human skill that will save them. But Psalm 124 says - “If the Lord had not been on our side – let Israel say … if the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive…” (vs. 1-3).

As I left Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, I could not help but fear that, as Rosenberg believes, Israel will one day be isolated and abandoned once again – perhaps very soon. Her military might and human skill will not be enough to save her.

Standing on the heights of Megiddo and looking out on the Jezreel Valley, (see photo), I was chilled not only by the cool breeze but by the echo of prophecy that says that the enemies of Israel will descend upon them. But God will protect them. The Bible tells us thousands will die that day and all of Israel will know it was the hand of God.

But in the meantime there are wars and rumours of wars – death in the villages of Gaza and the Israeli towns bordering it and death in the city of Jerusalem itself.

Psalm 122 tells us, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem … may there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” (v.6,7).

Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to take those words to heart.