As Christmas approaches, it is good for us to remember that the name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Why is that significant? Because bread plays a important role in the life of Christ and in the Bible in general.
An article in the September 2017 Living Lutheran magazine points out that “bread is perhaps the easiest metaphor in the Bible. Almost all possible ingredients have a scriptural spotlight” (Kari Alice Olsen, Living Lutheran, September 2017, p. 20). Let’s take a look:
Water: Water symbolizes baptism that now saves you. —1 Peter 3:21
Yeast: What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. —Luke 13:20-21
Grain: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. —John 12:24
Honey: He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. —Deuteronomy 26:9
Oil: He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. —Leviticus 8:12
Salt: You are the salt of the earth. —Matthew 5:13
What I find so fascinating is that all these ingredients are then encapsulated in Jesus, who calls himself the Bread of Life (John 6:35). As the Bread of Life, he washes our sins away in baptism. He works through our lives like yeast to make us rise, He, like the fallen grain, dies to bear the fruit of everlasting life for us. He promises an abundant, heavenly land. He anoints us for service, and he calls us to sprinkle the world with the favor and flavor of his love.
Like Linus would say, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
So enjoy some bread this Christmas season and remember that Jesus, who was born in the House of Bread, continues to be the Bread of Life for us—most especially and beautifully in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.