The year I turned 30 was a landmark trip around the sun: I met my wife-to-be, I started learning piano, I finally saw “Weird Al” Yankovic in concert. (Wait, did I just admit that?) I also took a course on biblical Hebrew.
One evening the Hebrew homework involved translation exercises, which launched a string of memorable thoughts. As usual I sounded out the words from the foreign alphabet and searched my vocabulary for possible matches. My inner monologue unfolded something like this:
“Bah’ - yith. Bah-yith. Oh that’s an easy one. I’ve seen it before. ‘Bayith’ means ‘house.’ Write that down. ‘House.’ Okay. What’s next?”
“The next word is lekh'-em. Lekh'-em. I think ‘lechem’ means ‘bread.’ Maybe that’s it. The first word is ‘house.’ And the second word is . . . ‘bread?’ ‘House bread?’ That makes little to no sense. Alright. Let me see. Bah-yith lekh'-em. Hmmmm. ‘House bread.’ Like a gingerbread house? What is going on here? Bah-yith lekh'-em? Maybe it will help if I say it out loud, ‘Bah-yith lekh'-em.’ ‘Bahyithlekhem.’”
“Bethlehem literally means ‘House of Bread.’ That is very interesting!”
“Beth Lechem. Bethlehem. House of Bread. Fascinating. Like Baton Rouge means Red Stick, Bethlehem means House of Bread.”
“Jesus was born in ‘House of Bread.’”
“Woah. Wait a second.”
“Jesus was born in the ‘House of Bread.’ Heavy!”
“Jesus is the ‘Bread of Life’ and He was born in the ‘House of Bread.’”
“Amazing! The ‘Bread of Life’ was born in the ‘House of Bread.’ God is so brilliant! Jesus, the Bread of Life, came to earth in Bethlehem, the House of Bread.”
While my written account cannot transport us into the profundity of my experience and may translate as monotonous repetition, since that time I have reflected more on the Bread of Life being born in the House of Bread. One conclusion I draw from Christ’s birth in Bethlehem is that God is in the details.
I cannot say exactly what it was like emotionally or physically for Joseph and Mary to travel over 100 kilometres while expecting a child. Neither can I say which carols describing the events of Christ’s birth most romanticize—possibly in harmful ways—what actually occurred.
However I do not think it is a stretch to imagine that it was uncomfortable and inconvenient for Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem expecting a child without a place to stay when they arrived—maybe because Joseph had no relational connections remaining in Bethlehem, perhaps because none of Joseph’s family or friends would take Joseph and his pregnant betrothed into their home as it would bring shame upon their house, or possibly for other reasons. Regardless, without a secured Internet booking in the House of Bread Motel, I imagine it was very uncomfortable and inconvenient for Mary to have her firstborn child when “there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7, ESV).
And I have to wonder what that conversation was like:
Joseph: “Hi. I’m Joseph. This is Mary. We would like a room please.”
House of Bread Motel Keeper: “We’re all out. The whole town’s full ‘cause of Caesar’s registration.”
Joseph: “What?! No rooms. But Mary here is super pregnant and we’re very tired from traveling over 100 kilometres.”
House of Bread Motel Keeper: “What’s a kilometre?"
Joseph: “Nevermind. The point is we can’t just sleep outside. Don’t you have anything for us? Please!”
House of Bread Motel Keeper: “So Mary’s your wife?”
[Insert awkward pause.]
Joseph: “Well, not technically. Look it’s a bit complicated, and I can’t get into it all right now. But we really need a place to stay for the registration.”
[Insert a more awkward pause.]
House of Bread Motel Keeper: “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. . . . . . . I see. . . . . . . Well, I guess if all you want is a roof over your head, then follow me. But you’re not gonna like it.”
While there are many significant theological details to be examined from the reality that the person whose name literally means “Yahweh is salvation” was born, wrapped in cloths, and laid in a manger—a place where you put food that is ready to be eaten—my point here is this: the events that Mary and Joseph probably experienced as uncomfortable and inconvenient and possibly even cruel and unfair, to God were part of a tapestry of details that made perfect sense.
The Bread of Life needed to be born in the House of Bread. The newborn Christ needed to be wrapped in cloths and laid in a food receptacle. The Glory of God needed to be displayed in humility and weakness.
So maybe Joseph and Mary did not get what was going on. Maybe I don’t get what’s going on in my life and others' lives most of the time. But while it was likely inconvenient and uncomfortable for Mary and Joseph, it would be wrong to conclude that God was absent from any of these details.
My life often feels bizarre, confusing, directionless, inconvenient, and uncomfortable. But when I remind myself of the circumstances in which the Bread of Life came to earth, I am reminded that God knows what’s going on. He’s not asleep on the job. He is deep in the details—so deep that He’s often misunderstood or overlooked. And He’s secure enough to be ok with that.
Jesus refers to Himself as the Bread of Life and makes the connection between Himself and the manna that the Israelites ate in the desert. Manna, or man hu, means “What is it?” If the Israelites did not understand God’s provision of bread from Heaven in the desert, it is not surprising that many of us miss the significance of the details around God’s provision of bread from Heaven in the Bread of Life.
According to my understanding Jesus could have been born anywhere. According to God’s big picture understanding His Son coming to earth at Bethlehem communicated qualities of God’s nature—including His attention to detail. From the moment Jesus arrived on earth He communicated the character of God—before He could even speak.
Since I learned in my 30th year that the Bread of Life was born in the House of Bread, now when I think about Bethlehem I remember that our God is in the details—the details in Christ’s life, the details in the lives of Mary and Joseph, the details in the lives of His chosen people, the details in your life, and the details in my life. Praise God! His choices are not serendipitous; they are calculated in Love. God is deep in the details, and my response is, “Well played, Sir. Well played.”
David is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He moved to Vancouver in 2009 to attend graduate school, but he's pretty sure the real reason was so he could become Beni's husband. David enjoys playing and writing music and finds creative expression a nice distraction from his incessant vocational ambivalence.