Christmas and the House of Bread

Christmas and the House of Bread

Whether or not there are actually one thousand oaks in our city, I do not know for sure, but the name of the town does evoke the image of the hundreds of old trees with gnarled branches and beautiful leaves that dot the hillsides of our valley.  The name of Bethlehem would have evoked images in the minds of the ancient people of Israel as well.  In Hebrew, Bethlehem means “house of bread.”  It got this name because of the fertile fields of grain that surrounded the area.  These are fields where Ruth worked when she followed her mother-in-law Naomi back to her home country—the fields where she fell in love with Boaz and the lineage of David was established.

The reason the fields were so fertile around Bethlehem was because there is a huge aquifer under the area where the town is, which eventually became the water source for Jerusalem in around 200 BCE. There were so many Jewish pilgrims coming to Jerusalem that the city couldn’t cope. The older water supply was contaminated by the animals slaughtered in the temple. They needed fresh water and this came from Bethlehem.

The Bible tells us that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because of a census that required them to return to the place where their ancestors were from.  It seems interesting to me, however, that the place they are traveling to is also famous for its bread and water.  This is where Jesus will be born—Jesus who will later call himself the “Bread of Life” and who will offer “living water” to the woman at the well.  His birthplace foreshadows the gifts Jesus will bring into the world through his mission.

Jesus seems to tie what he offers for our souls to the very physical needs of bread and water.  What if as we heard the song “O Little of Bethlehem” we thought not only of the quaint barn and golden glow of light, but also thought of the source of food and water the town was known for?   What would it mean to see Bethlehem as symbolic of the sacred connection between what we eat and drink and the health of our minds and spirits? Would it help make us more conscious of protecting the sources of the bread which gives us life and water which helps us live?

-Pastor Erik Goehner