“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” Micah 5:2
“Beth (in Hebrew) means “house”; lehem means “food” or “bread”; and Bethlehem means “a house of bread.” The city had that name because it was situated in a good, fruitful country, abounding in grain, so that it was granary for the neighboring towns. We call such a city a “breadbasket.” Formerly, it was called Ephrata, which means “fruitful.” Both names had the same cause, that it had fruitful and abundant soil. This signifies that without the Gospel, this earth is a wilderness, and there is no confession of God nor thanksgiving.
“But where the Gospel and Christ are, THERE is the Bethlehem abounding in grain and the thankful Judea. There everyone has enough in Christ and there is thanksgiving for divine grace. But human doctrines thank themselves and leave a barren land and deadly hunger. No heart is satisfied unless it hears Christ rightly proclaimed in the Gospel. The heart comes to Bethlehem and finds Him; it also comes and remains in Judea and thanks its God eternally. Apart from the Gospel, there is nothing but thanklessness and we would have nothing but starvation.” Martin Luther. 1525.
From the house of bread – Bethlehem – comes the bread of life – Jesus – (John 6)! He comes to feed the hungry with good things (Luke 1:53). He gives the Gospel to satisfy the needs of the world; He gives His very body and bloody, forgiveness, peace, mercy, hope, comfort, eternal salvation, life: in short, every good thing.
But Martin Luther reminds us that wherever Jesus/the Gospel is found, there is Bethlehem, our house of Bread. We don’t need to travel 10,000 miles in order to behold where Christ was given for “peace on earth, goodwill towards man.” We find our Bethlehem (our house of Bread) at our local congregation, where Jesus is laid in the cradle of your hands to eat and drink to give God’s peace and goodwill to you.
So the next time you sing, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” instead of picturing a stable in the Middle East, picture your very own church, your Bethlehem, where Jesus comes to you with forgiveness and salvation.
“O little town of Bethlehem… in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight. How silently, how silently The wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.”