“About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.
While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.”
“Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem and not Rome?”
I saw this question posed on Twitter the other day and it got me thinking. Yes, I realized it’s all about what was prophesied about Jesus, but why that town? If God knew that the center of the action would be Rome at that time, why not make a different entrance?
The story of Jesus connection to Bethlehem begins in the book of Ruth in the Old Testament. In seminary, my Hebrew exegesis class translated this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The book in English begins this way: Once upon a time—it was back in the days when judges led Israel— there was a famine in the land. Standard story stuff. However, the word “Bethlehem” means “house of bread,” so the actual Hebrew reads, “there was no bread in the house of bread.” Much more interesting than “there was a famine in the land”. Knowing that Jesus’ home town was known as the House of Bread makes his words in John 6 even more poignant:
“Jesus said, ‘I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.'”
“I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that t ruly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”
To us it’s a great message, but for the people in that time, he was saying, “You want bread? Let me tell you something, I’m not only from Bread Town, I’m the MAYOR of Bread Town, and I’ll do you one better. I am bread so awesome that once you get a piece of this, you’ll never be hungry again.” (For some reason, Jesus became someone from the cast of The Sopranos)
Jesus being born in a town that was named for a basic food staple. He wasn’t born in Foie Gras Town, he was born in Bread Town. Bread is basic, warm, comforting, and readily available. Bread is much more indicative of the size of Jesus ministry. He didn’t travel more than 100 miles. He met the needs of the people he encountered. He was mostly homeless. He was the “bread” of Messiahs. But then he took it to another level. He infused the interactions he had with average people with a loving power that had not been seen before, making it more like Wonder Bread. Yep, I totally went there. Wonder Bread.