Present-day Bethlehem lies about six miles to the south of Jerusalem in Palestinian territory and has a population of around 25,000. The majority of the population is Muslim, but there remains a large Christian element due to the popularity of the Church of the Nativity with Christian tourists from around the world. Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread” in Hebrew, was a small shepherding village in the days of Jesus’s birth and probably numbered no more than 1,000 people. By comparison, Jerusalem is estimated to have had a population of about 50,000 in 1 BC. Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz near Bethlehem and, of course, Jesse raised David in Bethlehem as well. This town was several hundred years old by the time of Jesus’s birth. Bethlehem was well-known for having fertile grain fields necessary for producing bread and green pastures with flocks of sheep that supported the birthing of lambs.
The prophet Micah prophesies the words of God about 400 years before Jesus’s birth: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Mic. 5:2, NIV). There are actually two towns in Israel named Bethlehem. The other one is just north of Nazareth, which is north of Jerusalem. This Bethlehem of the north is referred to as Bethlehem of Zebulun (the sixth son of Jacob by Leah) while Bethlehem of the south is Bethlehem Ephrathah (Rachel’s tomb is at Ephrath, another name for Bethlehem, the fourth son of Jacob). God is in total control of the exact location where His Son will be born. He has set in motion the grand plan for Christmas Day becoming reality. The place could have been Jerusalem, it could have been Nazareth, it could have been Bethlehem of Zebulun, it could have been anywhere on Galilee’s shore—but it was not. The town was Bethlehem (of Judah) Ephrathah. The House of Bread, Bethlehem, was chosen for the Bread of Life; Ephrathah was chosen for the Lion of Judah. Through the Father’s choice, the world can choose to understand by faith that God precisely controlled all events leading to His Son’s birth. Jesus, born in the House of Bread, is the Living Bread, and the Bread of Life is available as eternal food for all to partake. Jesus is the Lamb of God whose birth was witnessed by shepherds watching over the birth of their lambs on Christmas Eve. Jesus is the Lion of Judah who will return to earth with power and judgment even for all who reject Him.
God is in control now over 2,000 years since Christ the Lord was born in the House of Bread. Jesus said in John 6: “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world”. 6:3233NIV). The crowd responded: “Sir, give us this bread” (John 6:34, NIV). Jesus then explains in further detail: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life…. I am the bread that came down from heaven…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:35, 40, 41, 51, 53, 58, NIV).
God remains in control as our life can be extended to eternal life through the life-sustaining bread provided through His Son, the Living Bread born in the House of Bread. Celebrate Christmas with all the joy and hope and strength you possess, for the Christ child, born in Bethlehem’s manger, is the Bread of Life for all who feed on Him. The Ancient Words have spoken!
From the hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:
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.