Wednesday, December 17, 2008

House of Bread

Vol. 1, No, 29
December 4, 2006

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity … This One will be our peace. (Mic 5:2, 5)[i][1]

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet …” (Matt 2:2-5)

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:35)

Except for the singularly most significant event in all of history, this sleepy little lack-luster Palestinian town would hardly warrant mention in sacred Scripture. Isaac’s wife, Rachel, was buried near there.[ii][2] Ruth, the Moabitess, came to live there with her mother-in-law, Naomi. There she met and married Boaz and became the great-grandmother of the greatest king Israel ever had,[iii][3] and consequently she became an ancestor of the Messiah. King David was probably born there,[iv][4] and it is there where Samuel anointed him to become Israel’s king.[v][5] The fertile valleys around Bethlehem provided ideal pasture lands for raising the sheep that David tended for his father.[vi][6] Situated just 5 miles south of Jerusalem and in the shadow of the temple, sheep-raising later became profitable for the sale of the sacrificial lambs used in temple worship.

It was not to the grand palace of Alexandria that the Creator chose to come. It was not to the Roman courts of Augustus Caesar that He made Himself known. Nor did He identify with Herod the Great, the puppet king of Israel. No, instead He made His grand entry into the world at the little insignificant village of Bethlehem. Having left the unspeakable splendor of Glory, His welcome was offered not by a royal delegation, but by smelly stable animals. His first bed was not covered with the finest linen, but with rough, prickly straw; it was not a soft down canopy bed fit for a king, but an ordinary feeding trough intended only to keep the cattle’s feed away from the dung and urine on the sod floor. His bedchamber was not of polished marble draped in velvet and satin, but rather the walls of a dark limestone cave adorned with spider-spun silk. His arrival was announced not to kings, princes or potentates, but to a motley group of low-life sheep herders.

It was here to this nothing little town – Bethlehem, the “house of bread” – that the Bread of Life made His entry. It was to a small, lowly band of Bethlehem shepherds that the Lamb of God was proclaimed. It was in a single moment, in resounding silence and resplendent obscurity, that the insignificant became all-significant. Into a cold and darkened world the radiant Light of the world burst through. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) Surely, some out-of-towner that night asked the local inn keeper, “What’s new in Bethlehem?” to which the inn keeper answered, “Nothing. Nothing ever happens in Bethlehem.” Yet, in its dark streets shown the Everlasting Light!

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear can hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him,
Still the dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in;
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel![vii][7]

[i][1] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are taken from THE NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE UPDATE. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995, by The Lockman Foundation.
[ii][2] Genesis 35:19; 48:7
[iii][3] Ruth 4:17
[iv][4] 1 Samuel 17:12
[v][5] 1 Samuel 16:4
[vi][6] 1 Samuel 17:15
[vii][7] Brooks, Phillips (1835-1893), “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Stanza 3 & 4, The Baptist Hymnal (Convention Press, Nashville, 1991), Hymn 86.

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