Bethlehem means “house of bread.” The city of David, the birthplace of Christ. The Christ born an infant, who grew up and pronounced himself to be “The Bread of Life.” Born in the “house of bread” and placed in a feeding trough. Bread of Life. Mind-boggling, really.
The other day I was listening to an interview with Tom Harpur on the radio. Normally an interview with Tom Harpur might just get my dander up, as I could tend to disagree with so much of what he says… but I listened. He was up after a feminist who argued for an interpretation of the Christmas story that said Mary was not a virgin. She didn’t seem to mean that as a contradiction of the divinity of Jesus or anything like that, but she argued for a non-literal interpretation of certain parts of the text.
So Tom Harpur came on next and said that this feminist was just falling into the same old trap of literalism because the whole Christmas story is really just figurative, there being no historical proof that it was fact; neither Mary nor Jesus were real people. You see why I could get down on Tom Harpur pretty quickly. Anyway, I did agree with his point that too much literalism in Biblical interpretation isn’t good, but we obviously disagree on just how much is appropriate. Again, he wasn’t so much denying faith, just making the Bible mostly figurative, I guess. But in his figurative interpretation, I found a nugget.
Tom Harpur suggested that Bethlehem is not literal, but figurative, and in figuratively providing a birthplace for the Christ, this was an example to us of how we need to “become Bethlehem,” a dwelling place for the Christ. This came to me as a “nugget” because it’s essentially what Advent is all about… about making ourselves a people prepared, a dwelling place for the Christ. It hit me then, that as we become a figurative “Bethlehem” for the Christ, we prepare ourselves to be a dwelling place for the “Bread of Life.” No longer in a feeding trough, but we still find him at the Table.