At a time of year when peace, love, and joy are celebrated by so many peoples of the world, it is a real tragedy that Bethlehem, a place which holds special significance at this time, sits in one of the most tumultuous areas of the world. As the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the town has been regarded as a holy place for centuries, attracting pilgrims from all corners of the globe for almost two millennia. These pilgrims contributed, and continue to contribute, to a lasting legacy, most visibly seen in the beauty of the Church of the Nativity, a place of worship constructed above the traditional place of Jesus’ birth.
The church has been maintained jointly by the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Apostolic Armenian churches, but the collaboration has not been without its conflicts. Sustained disagreements between the three faith groups have all too often impeded much-needed maintenance and restoration work at the UNESCO World Heritage Site. These struggles make what happened this Christmas season even more remarkable… Following an unusual storm which hit just two weeks before Christmas, the runoff caused by melting snow caused much damage to the town, including the precious Church of the Nativity. In a show of true Christmas spirit, the three church groups decided to set their differences aside and cooperate in order to conserve the site, repairing the damage and ensuring the building’s continued preservation for the future. (“A rare bond in Bethlehem gets ancient church restored”: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/12/25/nativity-church-repairs/4181643/ )
There is still much work to be done, for the church, the modern people of Bethlehem, and relations between various faith groups, but these first signs of harmony and cooperation which have come out of an otherwise detrimental situation provide rays of hope for the future and demonstrate how a shared heritage can promote unity today.
As the world celebrates another year and turns a hopeful eye to the future, may the little town of Bethlehem’s ‘Christmas miracle’ serve as an example of harmony to all.
Wishing all those who celebrate a very merry Christmas!