It's ironic that a dispute arising among three major Christian denominations in Bethlehem occurred at the Church of the Nativity and birthplace of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
It seems that one of these denominations angered the two others by asserting sole control over the locks and keys to the church, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. Just how that came to be is a complicated story. A set of rules known as the "Status Quo" set down by the Ottoman rulers of the Holy Land in 1852, who were Muslim, prescribed the guidelines governing the three denominations who oversaw worship in the Church of the Nativity...and these rules are still in effect today. The rules require that monks representing one of the three groups, the Greek Orthodox, be responsible for opening and closing the church doors each day. Representatives of the OTHER two groups, though not in charge of the keys, would be entitled to keep copies of these keys on hand. Sharing this space among three groups has always been fraught with difficulty even under the best of circumstances, but a clash over the keys began after the church was caught in the middle of a bitter standoff between Israelis and Palestinians over ten years ago. A group of Palestinian militants fleeing from Israeli troops took refuge in the church and refused to give themselves up for weeks, before the two sides reached a negotiated settlement to the incident. Several of the Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during the siege, and their bodies were taken from the church by one of the two denominations who had copies of the keys, the Franciscans. But the Greek Orthodox monks objected to the doors being opened without their permission and were upset that the Franciscans allowed Muslim prayer to be recited over the dead Palestinians in a section of the church they controlled. So they changed the locks. They refused to share the keys with their Christian brothers. And the Palestinian Authority had to come in and mediate an end to this stand-off between Christians!
Over 2500 years earlier, the prophet Micah had written this about Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days…he shall be the one of peace.” The peace brought by the One foreseen by Micah would not end all conflict on earth...not even among those who profess the name of Christ—including, of course, ordinary Christian folk like you and me. But the most important work of peace, peace that reconciled a rebellious people to their God and was accomplished by Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, would mean that God would continue to be at work in the hearts of his people to soothe the conflicts and bridge the divisions that would arise between them.
The fruit of Jesus’ work of bringing peace means that your sins are forgiven and that in the sacrament of Holy Communion you can now receive Jesus himself. What better way to begin your Christmas celebration this year than to know that you are forgiven and empowered to forgive others? What better way to celebrate the Prince of Peace born as one of us then to receive His peace anew and share it?