Names of people and places in the Bible often have a special resonance, a resonance we lose in translation.
Jesus himself – of course Jesus wasn’t his actual name – this is just a Greek translation of his real name which is Joshua. And Joshua means literally “God is salvation”
Place names too can lose their symbolic impact. Bethlehem means literally in Hebrew,”the house of bread”. As an adult Jesus had these words put into his mouth, “I am the bread of life”. So the bread of life was born in the house of bread. Another nuance lost in translation is that “I am” is actually the Hebrew name for God (Yahweh) so it means “God is the bread of life”
So what is significant about bread? Well it was an important and essential staple food at that time, and is important because bread fills you up and bread sustains and bread satisfies. Bread was essential to life.
My faith or trust if you like in God, is based on what satisfies me at a very deep level.
Those who were at Midnight mass heard me talk about how atheism and materialism just doesn’t satisfy me. It doesn’t explain to me why all the things I hold dear are important. Quite the opposite in fact. Atheism says to me that everything in my life that I hold dear and is important to me is actually an illusion and there is no real substance to my love and relationships at all. That doesn’t work for me.
What about your own loves and your relationships. Do you think they are real? I think that anyone who has loved and lost and suffered the pain and grief of loss knows far more about the realities of life than any purely scientific mechanistic understanding of life.
Love is real. And God is love. And love is God. For me, to say you don’t believe in God is the same as saying that you don’t believe in love.
Love, life, bread. That which satisfies, fills, sustains, that which gives life meaning and purpose. That is God.
And where is this God. Right here, right now, in our life. And it is this very fact that is symbolised by the nativity scene. Not a distant God of wrath. An intimate, vulnerable God who is with us and present to all of us – a fact represented by this depiction of a birth in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.