This past Sunday, as a sort of Christmas sermon, I preached on how Jesus is "the bread that came down out of heaven" (from John 6.41 and making comparison with the manna in the wilderness in Exodus 16). For our Christmas Eve service, I wrote a poem about how, fittingly, that Bread came down in a town called Bethlehem (which, translated from Hebrew, means House of Bread). So, here ya go:
Jacob’s fam’ly lived along
The outer fringe of town among
The peasants, widows, tradesmen, and
The shepherds who traversed the land
Outside the city gates with rams,
And billy goats, and little lambs.
Their house was simple, sturdy, small –
With sand-hued stucco on the wall
That faced the west and bore the wind.
Each winter Jake and dad would mend
The cracks and patch the crumbles tight
To keep out all the draft that might
Keep Jake and sisters from their sleep.
Sometimes by night he’d watch the sheep
For neighbors closer into town.
He’d lead them through the gate and down
The stony path out to the field
And bring back home his tiny yield:
Two copper coins for mother’s tin.
He’d dash inside, and drop them in,
And know he’d helped his fam’ly gain
A little extra weekly grain.
Their clothes were old, their pantry sparse.
And nothing hurt his father worse
Than knowing that his son was gaunt
And how the biting wind would taunt
The hovel, far too small and cramped –
And smelly when the chickens camped
Inside at night.
Young Jake could sense
His father’s grief and watch him wince
On colder nights when each of four
Familial quilts went on the floor
To cover wife and girls and son;
And how he’d wait ‘til they were done
With supper before standing up
And spooning some into his cup.
But Jacob’s father lived in trust
That God had promised and He must
Make all to work out for the good –
Even his fam’ly’s lack of food.
Some nights as he scooped out a few
Of mother’s lentils which she grew
In their side yard, he’d pause and say:
“I’m looking forward to the day
When God will open up the skies
And rain down bread before our eyes.
We may not sup on cakes or rolls …
But manna’s coming for our souls.”
“For our souls?” Jake’s heart would say inside.
“Food for our souls?” It sounded cheap.
And so when Jake would take the sheep
Out through the gate, he’d stop and read.
The words carved there would make him bleed
Inside. ‘Beth-lehem: House of Bread’.
“That may be what the ancients said”
Jake thought, “when David walked this town
And spread his blessings all around.
But things these days are pretty sparse.
That moniker seems like a farce.
‘Beth-lehem: House of Bread’ she was.
But now we say that just because;
Or with a vague religious twist –
‘True food will fall down like the mist’
Dad says. ‘Bread for the hungry soul –
Just like the prophets have foretold.’”
“I do not know” Jake thought. “Perhaps
Dad’s right.” But then his mind would lapse
Into a twelve year old’s day dreams –
With eyes glazed over and moonbeams
Across his face.
He’d almost dozed
When all the sheep around him rose.
The neighb’ring shepherds stood upright …
And in the sky a distant light
Grew brighter … and more glorious still
Until, hov’ring above the hill
Where shepherds watched their flocks by night –
And robed in splendid, glorious white –
An angel spoke and Jacob fell,
Sure that the news he’d come to tell
Was justice, wrath, and death assured
For doubting all his father’s word
About the bread, about our souls,
And how life’s more than cups and bowls
And yeast and grain and stomachs full.
But then he felt a kind word pull
Him off his face and to his feet:
“My news for you is true and sweet,
Like wafers spread with honey wild –
In Bethlehem’s been born a child!
A king – like manna for your souls!
You’ll find him near the donkey foals
Inside a manger filled with hay.
For unto you is born this day
A Savior who is Christ the Lord,
The Son of God, the Living Word!”
As Jacob rushed back down the trail,
He tripped over a water pail
And tumbled down upon his back.
As he looked up into the black
Of night … his eyes fixed on that gate.
And now its slogan filled with weight.
Once more: “Beth-lehem: House of Bread”.
It was just as his father said!
So learn the truth of Bethl’em’s gate.
It’s not the food that’s on your plate;
Nor if your body’s strong and whole.
The bread of God is for your soul!
Christmas – a tale of bread from heav’n
Which to our race is freely giv’n.