What Bethlehem Is Really Like (Part 2)

Photo taken during my trip to Israel in 2009.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'” (Luke 2:13-14)

Did you know that one time some people swiped an artifact marking the spot where Jesus was born?

Inside the Church of the Nativity, a 14-point star marks the traditional location of Jesus’ birth. In the 1840s, two groups were fighting over control of the Holy Land – Roman Catholic France and Eastern Orthodox Russia. A disputed area was Bethlehem. In the squabble, apparently the Orthodox monks took the star away and the French were insisting that it be re-installed. The removal of the star is said to be one of the precipitating events that drew both sides into the Crimean War.

You’d think that locations commemorating the Prince of Peace would be peaceful places. But as you well know, the Holy Land is a hotbed for conflict. It always has been. It probably always will be until the Prince of Peace returns in glory to bring peace once and for all.

The Holy Land also can be a distressed place in other ways. The hustle and bustle, peddling of souvenirs, and aggressive jockeying for the best spot in line can make for a less-than-peaceful atmosphere.

Take for example the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, at the traditional location of Jesus’ cross and tomb. When I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, people were pushing in line, trying to cut, being noisy. It was anything but peaceful. In some ways, the modern-day setting is more likely to create anxiety than facilitate reflection.

Back to Bethlehem: I must have hit the silver star in the Church of the Nativity at just the right time. It was just my tour group. No rush. Everyone got to take their time. I paused for a minute or two and got some of my favorite pictures of the trip documenting my visit to a holy place.

Some have wondered why the star has 14 points. Seven is a holy number in the Bible. Does the star symbolize seven doubled? Or could it tie into the trio of 14 generations described in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1? Some even say that 14 comes from Hebrew numerology, which assigned numerical values to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The name David totals 14 in Hebrew numerology; Jesus surpassed David as the greatest King.

Latin words are inscribed on the silver star: “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est.” Translation: “Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary.”

There’s the reason for peace: Jesus came into the world! He was born for the purpose of growing up and one day dying on the cross to pay for our sins. His sacrifice is what gives us the peace we need most: inner peace with God. Our souls don’t have to be filled with tension and turmoil, like a volatile Middle East inside of us.

People can steal a star from inside a church. But inside your heart, no one can remove what God has given you: His Holy Spirit. And as a result, no one can rob you of peace when your focus is on your Savior.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

If you missed yesterday’s post, “What Bethlehem Is Really Like (Part One),” click here.

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Author: Christopher Kennedy

Senior Pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, School, and Child Care in San Antonio, Texas. Husband to my beloved Ashley. Dad to the four most wonderful children in the world.

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