The word, Bethlehem, is full of spiritual symbolism. In Hebrew it means, “house of bread.” We know that Jesus was placed in a manger, a term derived from an a old French word meaning, “to eat.” “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'” (John 6:35)
However, bread of a different nature was the important guest last Monday, December 3, 2018, as the mayor of Bethlehem, along with the Prime Minister, and representatives from the Catholic Church officiated the annual Christmas tree lighting in Manger Square. According to an online article in the International Middle East Media Center, both locals and tourists from around the world enjoyed the celebration of music, speeches, nativity videos, and the tree lighting. There were a few classic cars on display, as well as over forty booths offering souvenirs and food for sale hosted by folks from places like Armenia and the Czech Republic, among others. Oh, and there were fireworks. Quite an event for a small city. Under the Palestinian Authority since 1995, most of Bethlehem’s population are Muslim, but many Palestinian Christians live there as well. The Christmas events, though, are largely for the sake of the many Christians who make pilgrimage to the Church of the Nativity each December.
Tourism is the bread (pun intended) and butter of Bethlehem. In a place known for war and violence, the powers that be, wisely make certain to protect the millions of tourists and their dollars coming in each year. Although the citizens of the city are mostly poor, there are over two dozen hotels and hundreds of craft stores and souvenir shops, more restaurants than you could imagine and there’s even a coffee shop called, “Stars & Bucks.”
What would (does) Jesus say about making dough in Bethlehem today? From the biblical record he might approve of the unity that seems apparent at Christmas in Bethlehem. On the other hand, He is known for turning over tables when money-making overtakes true worship. I’m not a Scrooge when it comes to the Christmas economy and I certainly don’t suggest that there is anything wrong with making a profit in the land of prophets.
For my money though, one dough-making enterprise that He would likely frequent is the Salesian Bakery. According to their website, “The Salesian Bakery is a historical institution for the people of Bethlehem. It was opened right after the establishment of the Salesian house (1891) to respond to a three-fold need: to internally produce food for sustenance of the young orphans thereby hosted and to Bethlehem families; to serve as a place for learning the baker’s profession, and finally to be an instrument for charitable assistance to the neediest people. Isn’t it apt to offer bread to the needy in the ‘House of Bread’ – Bethlehem?”
On this second Sunday of Advent, when we light the second purple candle – the Bethlehem candle – it’s a great time to get our priorities straight. While the mystic place of Jesus’ birth draws millions each year, let us be drawn by love to the important work of Jesus in today’s world.