Friday, December 26, 2008

Et lux in tenebris lucet.

If you live in the northern hemisphere and celebrate the Nativity of Christ on the date reckoned by the Gregorian (or Revised Julian) calendar, then you're used to the idea that Christmas arrives a few days after the winter solstice. Christmas comes shortly after the darkest day of the year, at a time when the daylight hours are slowly but perceptibly growing longer. In this way, nature bears witness to the very subtle way in which the divine light entered into our world through the birth of Christ. As the Prologue of John's Gospel reminds us, this light came in the subtlest way possible - it was a light that shone in the darkness, a light like that of a single candle in a large room or a small lamp on a moonless night. And yet, as John wrote, the light that came to us at the birth of Christ was the "true light that enlightens everyone" (Jn 1:9). The inability of the darkness to overcome this small light bears witness to resilience of faith in the face of what can sometimes seem to be the overwhelming forces of indifference and rejection.

After praying on the themes of light and darkness at Christmas, I took a look at some of the many photographs I took during my retreat in Jerusalem this past June. The set of photos seen above were all taken at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a wonderfully dark place lit by many small candles. Each of these candles bears witness to the faith and fervent prayers of pilgrims who journey from around the world to visit the central shrine of Christendom.

Bookending the various images of candles offered above, I've included a couple of liturgical scenes in which candles are prominent. The first photo in this series shows an early morning celebration of the Coptic Divine Liturgy on a small altar at the back of the Tomb of Christ. Here, the light provided by the candles is what allows the liturgy to go on. In the last photo in the set, taken at the Greek Orthodox service of Orthros, the candles are purely devotional yet the faithful nonetheless cluster around them as if to acknowledge the power of the light of faith. In all of these photos, the gentle light of candles in the dark reminds us of the inextinguishable light of Christ that comes into our hearts at Christmas. AMDG.


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