Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
Luke 2:1-5 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census should be taken of the whole empire. This was the first census to take place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, since he was from the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to him in marriage and was expecting a child.
On the Second Sunday of Advent, we light the Bethlehem candle. This candle is named after the place where Jesus Christ was born. Bethlehem means house of bread – bet lechem. Isn’t it interesting that the man who called himself the bread of life happens to be from a place called the “house of bread”?
So what’s the deal with bread? Why’s it so important when you’re in the Jesus business? I’m a musician. The only bread we talk about in the music business is money. We don’t talk about bread much aside from that.
But in the Bible, you’ve got your unleavened bread, the bread of the presence, the bread of life, the bread of God, the bread of heaven, the bread of sorrows, and you’ve got your just plain “bread alone” – you’ve got your daily bread, your living bread, you’ve got the blessing of the bread, you’ve got the breaking of the bread.
What’s the deal with bread.
Y’all know how bread is made? You take some grain, take some salt, take some sugar, add water, and mix it up together with yeast, also known as leaven. What’s the deal with leaven? Leaven comes up a lot in the Jesus business too. “The leaven of the Pharisees,” “a little leaven goes a long way,” “the Kingdom of Heaven it like Leaven.” You know the surname Levin just so happens to come from the priesthood of Israel, the Levites? Different Levin, but food for thought.
Bread to chew on.
But what is leaven? When you throw it into your dough, and toss it into the oven, leaven is what’s going to make the bread rise. Leaven is a fungus. Like much fungi, it doesn’t need your average food to survive – leaven “does not live by bread alone”, so to speak. While it’s like some vegetation, it doesn’t photosynthesize. It lives off of different chemical reactions – it secretes enzymes into its environment, transforms them, decomposes them for its consumption – the word for this is fermentation. One could say it “has food that you know not of.”
Leaven reproduces however it wants to. Sexually or asexually. One could say it “holds marriage in honor” and yet also “is neither married nor given in marriage, but like the angels in heaven.”
When you’re baking bread, you can use dried out dead spores or living spores for leaven. Either way, it’ll take the dead and ground-up grain, sugars, salt, water, and transform it, and make the dough rise. It “raises the dead,” so to speak.
See where I’m going with this?
Are you starting to see why Jesus brought up bread so much? Bread behaves in a unique way, and Jesus thought it was the perfect symbol of what His Kingdom is all about.
Well, what can we learn from bread about the Kingdom? We talked about the purpose of leaven. What’s the purpose of bread?
To be eaten. To be broken. When we eat, we say we’re breaking bread.
Why do we eat? To live. Jesus taught us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” That doesn’t just mean we pray for a loaf of bread every day. Bread has a broader meaning here – it’s the food that sustains us.
Now think about what bread is for a moment, how it’s made. Is it natural or man-made? It’s a little bit of both, right? It’s not your average meal where you take a dead animal carcass and add some dead vegetation and some dead spices – you actually add a living ingredient in order to change the ingredients into something more.
Bread is a synergy between life and death, natural and unnatural, man’s work and God’s work.
Jesus said, “I’m the bread of life.”
Here’s something to think about. Jesus didn’t come right out and say from the beginning, “I’m going to die on a cross for the sins of the world.” Nope — it wasn’t until his very last year of ministry that he started dropping hints about the violent death he was destined to endure, and when his disciples heard it, they said, “No way, Lord! That can’t happen! Why would you say such a thing?”
But they should have seen it coming. Jesus said “I am the bread of life.” What is bread for but to be broken? He didn’t come right out and say it, but if they had thought a little harder about what Jesus was saying, his disciples would have realized much earlier that Jesus was telling them, “I’m going to die for you. My body is going to be broken for you, so that you can have the life that is in me, and be sustained, and have God’s life in you.”
How appropriate that the man who called himself the bread of life was born in the house of bread. It’s no accident. God wrote the history of the nation of Israel to be a foreshadowing of Jesus – the house of bread was named centuries before the bread of life came to be born there.
Now, Jesus didn’t say that all bread was good. Once upon a time, Jesus was with his students, and there were more people than food. So Jesus blessed the bread and when he broke it, there was more bread after he broke it than there was before. He multiplied the loaves and fishes! You have heard the story before.
But not long after, he was riding in a boat with his students. They were hungry with only one loaf of bread left, and they started talking about how they’d find more bread. Where should they go? Which market? Where would they get the money? How long would it take?
Jesus said, “Watch out! Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, the powerful religious authorities, and Herod, the king!”
What did Jesus mean? He meant, stop looking anywhere other than God for your daily bread. Pray the Our Father – not the Our Economy, or the Our Government. Not the Our Stop & Shop, Our Costco, Our Amazon; not Our 9-5 Workweek, Our Minimum Wage; not Our Legislators, Our Politicians, or Our Business Moguls.
Have there been times in your life when you’ve been waiting for that big break, waiting for that big raise, looking for that big opportunity, worrying about how you’re going to pay your bills, feed your family, make ends meet? You ain’t human if you ain’t raising your hand. But who are you going to rely on? God or man? With man, it’s impossible, but with God, all things are possible.
“A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” the Bible says. When you take your faith that should go to God, and give it to man, all of a sudden, you’re not living in the Kingdom of God anymore. You’ve taken that little bit of leaven and now you’ve got the bread of the world. But Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and mixed into three measures of flour, until all of it was leavened.” With just a little bit of faith in God, you’ve got the bread of heaven.
I’m not saying that you’ve got to stop thinking about your finances if you want God to take care of them. God designed you to be a good steward of His creation, and your finances are a part of that – don’t think for one second that what belongs to you doesn’t belong to Him. Don’t think of what you have as what is yours, but as what is God’s — and if God is happy to give you what you have now, ain’t no reason to think he isn’t going to keep on giving. Ask Him for your daily bread – because the bread you truly want and need isn’t going to come from anywhere else.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never hunger.” Never hunger? For real? Truly? “Which of you, if your child asks for bread, is going to give him a pebble?…So if even evil people know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
You put your faith in man, you’ll end up in a bread line waiting for whatever’s left in the rich man’s store house. You put your faith in God, and you get the bread from heaven, and you’ll never go hungry. Just a little bit of faith is going to do the trick – a little leaven leavens the whole lump. You basically got yourself a lifetime supply of the bread of life.
Not a bad deal.
Now, don’t think me a fool, some of you may have noticed that when I was talking about how to make bread earlier, I left out a really important step: you gotta put it in the oven.
You need the fire. You need the fire of the Holy Spirit to get that bread of life into your life. You gotta have that leaven of faith – but you need the Holy Spirit of God cook it all up. Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, said, Jesus is going to baptize with fire. Jesus said, “I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it’s done!”
A baptism by fire – that’s when the rubber meets the road – where the pedal hits the metal – where theory becomes practice – when the deal gets real. The Bible says, “everyone’s work will be tested by fire.” Yes, everyone. That means you. I feel certain everyone listening has been through a fiery trial. You probably wouldn’t be here listening to the gospel if you hadn’t. You might be going through one right now. I think it’s safe to say our country and even the whole world is going through one this year.
“But Sean, didn’t you say God’s going to take care of everything? ‘Give us this day our daily bread and not a pebble’ and all that good stuff?” Oh you bet your butt! But don’t you forget this: if y’all are the body of Christ, and Jesus Christ’s body is bread, what does that make you?
“Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.”
Christians – that means little Christs. Christians – y’all are meant to be the same kind of bread that Jesus is. That’s what God is doing with your life – kneading you like dough, sprinkling in just a bit of that leaven of faith, putting you in the oven.
So don’t be surprised that in making bread out of you, giving you the leaven of faith, putting you through the oven of the baptism of the fire of the Holy Spirit, God has a plan for you to be broken. Repeat after me: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; God, you will not despise a broken and contrite heart.”
If any of you has ever wondered, why is there such suffering in life? Look no further than this.
The author of our salvation, Jesus Christ, was made perfect through suffering. “He Himself suffered when He was tested, He is able to help those who are being tested…” For this reason He was made like us, His brothers and sisters, “so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, in order to make atonement for the sins of the people.”
So consider this. This altar is the altar of our faithful high priest who made atonement for us, Jesus. Today at the altar, we break the bread of holy communion. He said, “This bread is my body broken for you. Take it and eat it…”
“The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” The bread we break is the body of Christ, broken – which means we of the body of Christ also must break. For the Lord’s body was broken once and for all, so that our broken and contrite hearts may join the heart of God. Remember, this season of Advent is a season of penance. When we call to mind our own heartbreak, and yearning that our lives be more perfect, more holy, more good.
The Christian life – the life of prayer, the life of the church, all of it – always has one this one home-base: Sunday morning – you, me, here, gathering in the name of Jesus and breaking bread. If you were an alien without any understanding of the meaning of this, you’d still see it clear as day – those Christians, they meet every 7th day, usually in the morning, they talk, they sing, they go silent, they break bread and eat it. I don’t know what it means or why they do it, we don’t got anything like that on Uranus, but that’s what they do.
But there is an inner life to the outward symbols of Sunday morning. The hidden meaning shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s love. You know what the Bible calls these Sunday morning gatherings, and the breaking of the bread? — the agape meal – the love feast.
We’re not aliens. We know that home-base for Christian life is more than just Sunday morning – it’s love. Love, love, love. Don’t you forget. The breaking of the Bread is the love feast. The love feast is the breaking of the bread – in symbol and in spirit.
Jesus Christ, the bread of life, born in Bethelem, the house of bread – born to be broken. Broken for our broken and contrite hearts to be filled with the sustenance of the bread of heaven, the love of God, dwelling in us – making us into a house of bread.
This is Bethlehem right here. The house of bread.
May the Lord give you your daily bread. May the Lord bless your bread by letting your bread break. May you break your bread with thanksgiving and rejoicing. May everyone who breaks this bread eat, and be satisfied, and find more crumbs at the end than there was bread at the start.
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.”