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Bethlehem & the Beginning of Advent

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I rarely eat bread these days. Unfortunately, carbs are no longer the friend they were in my twenties. But when I do have bread, I want the good stuff–crusty bread baked with rosemary and olive oil or a tangy sourdough baguette with melted Brie on it. Last summer some girlfriends and I found this rich, dense homemade bread with ribbons of dark chocolate at a little farmer’s market. We sat down at a picnic table telling ourselves we would just have one bite. Several bites later, I thought to myself, “I know why Jesus called himself the Bread of Life.”

Today begins Advent, a season of expectation, of waiting, of longing. It is an invitation to remember the meticulous details of our Savior’s birth so we can see the glory of God the Father. One of those details is the place where Jesus would be born. Bethlehem was a tiny dot on the map, a place for Mary to rest her weary body from their travel. But it would be in this town, this Bethlehem that means “house of bread” that the Bread of Life would be born. And on that night when the virgin Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world, this seemingly insignificant town would find its way into history, but that night when the star shone bright wasn’t the first time Bethlehem got notice.

In the Old Testament in the book of Ruth we find one of my favorite stories. A man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi, along with their two sons, leave Bethlehem because of a famine and head to Moab. While in Moab, their sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. In the course of a decade, Naomi loses her husband and both her sons. In her grief and need, she leaves Moab to return to Bethlehem. Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to leave her and find new husbands. Orpah agrees to it, but Ruth begs to stay with her.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth 1:16

Naomi concedes, and they return to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. In an effort to find food for herself and her mother-in-law, Ruth goes to a field to glean. And then comes her behold moment, that flash when God interrupts her story, “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem” (Ruth 2:4). The music changes, and we see God’s provision for Ruth and Naomi, not only in the kindness of a stranger, but in the detailed orchestration of a family kinsman-redeemer. Boaz was in a significant and not coincidental position to be able to redeem Ruth and Naomi.

So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” Ruth 3:6-13)

Boaz, their kinsman redeemer, came from Bethlehem, a town whose name means “house of bread,” the same town from which our Great Redeemer, Jesus Christ, would come. Bethlehem was the place Ruth would come to, vulnerable and needy. It was the place where God would provide the grain for bread for Ruth and Naomi and the place where God would provide the Bread of Life for us all. Bethlehem was the place where God would show his care for the widow and all those who feel forgotten. It was the place where God would show His sustenance to the woman who would become the great-grandfather of David, the one through whom the Savior of the world would be born. And it would be this Savior who takes our bitter, broken hearts like Naomi’s and shows us unending faithfulness. Bethlehem was a place that had once been in famine but would become the birthplace of the One who gives abundant life.

And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. Ruth 2:14

Ruth was satisfied and had some left over. When God interrupts your story with a behold moment, it isn’t about scarcity. It’s about being satisfied with the Bread that never leaves us hungry. We sometimes think if God blesses someone else, it means less blessing for us, or if we honor God with the Sabbath, we will be less productive and successful. Or if we give, we won’t have what we need. But that’s not how the Bread of Life works. The second part of John 10:10 tells us, “I have come to give you life and life abundant.” When God interrupts our story it isn’t about scarcity because God certainly wasn’t scarce with his love. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). These words come from a God who rained down manna in the desert and a God who multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand. He is the Living Bread, the One who gives abundant life.

From a tiny town called Bethlehem whose name means “house of bread” the Living Bread would come. He would come from the line of David, great-grandson of Ruth, the woman who faithfully followed God to the grain fields where her kinsman-redeemer Boaz would come for her. Just as our Great Redeemer, Jesus Christ, would take the bread in his hands, break it, and say, “This is my body, broken for you.”

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