John 6:48, 51
Bethlehem—the very name floods the imagination and stirs the emotions. God chose this tiny village, annually revered in churches and homes around the world, as the cradle of celestial joy, hope and peace. Each Christmas, young and old contemplate the reality and significance of the manger, the shepherds, the Magi and the Holy Family under the star of Bethlehem. In this hamlet, one quiet, mysterious night two thousand years ago, an event took place that forever changed the course of history!
Modern Bethlehem is remarkably unchanged since the time of Jesus’ birth. Its Hebrew name, “House of Bread,” well defines this fertile parcel of land on the edge of the Judean desert. As they have through the ages, Bethlehem’s fields still supply nourishing grain, the olive grove’s distinctive oil, and the vineyard’s succulent grapes.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were keeping watch over their sheep in a nearby field, and “an angel of the Lord appeared to them” (Luke 2:9). While no one knows the exact spot where the angel appeared to the startled shepherds, tradition identifies two sites.
In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that Jesus’ birth took place in a cave close to the village. At the urging of his devout mother, Queen Helena, the Emperor Constantine built a magnificent basilica over the site, richly decorating it with marble mosaics and frescoes. What had been a simple cave at the edge of an obscure village became the “heart” of the town of Bethlehem and the focal point of Christian thought and devotion throughout the world.
Descending into the grotto under the central altar, one follows a well-worn path. Numberless pilgrims have entered this cave believed to be the authentic site of Jesus’ birth. The grotto’s focal point is a fourteen-point silver star on the white marble floor, with the Latin inscription: “Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary.”
Here, in a hostel’s basement cave in the village known as “the House of Bread” was born the baby who would one day declare, “I am the bread of life… I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:48, 51).
May the Babe of Bethlehem’s followers continue to respond as did His first century disciples: “Lord, evermore give us this bread” (John 6:34 KJV).
William Francis, The Stones Cry Out