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.

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