Each year at this time we remember the fact that Joseph was required to return to the city of his fathers for the Roman census. Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem by order of Caesar Augustus. But this is not the first time Bethlehem has appeared in the Bible. You’ll remember that Naomi and her husband and sons left Bethlehem at the beginning of the book of Ruth. They left the city of Bethlehem because there was a great famine; there was no bread in the land. This is highly ironic because the name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” The “house of bread” had become empty and barren. This symbolism is pushed even further by the fact that shortly after Naomi’s relocation, Naomi’s husband and two sons die. Naomi has become literally barren. She has no husband and no sons. It is in the midst of that barrenness that Naomi returns to Bethlehem. Just after John the Baptist is born, Zechariah regains his speech and sings out, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” A similar phrase is used in the book of Ruth; at the height of Naomi’s barrenness, she hears that the Lord has visited his people by giving them bread. And of course the rest of the story bears this out to fullness. Naomi is given not only bread but a daughter and a son and a grandson. The same is true here: God raises up salvation and visits us in the midst of our barrenness. When we were powerless to do anything, he saved us. When we were lost and guity, he came and forgave us and declared his love for us. In other words, this is the house of bread, the true Bethlehem, where God feeds the hungry and the empty and the barren. What do you see in your life that is missing, that aches, that burns, and that you are completely powerless to change? What seems utterly impossible to you? This bread is God’s oath to you, it is his solemn word that He is the God who visits his people. He gives children to the barren. He has given a son to a virgin. For with God nothing is impossible.
Thank you for that word of encouragement and hope!