“In 1865, the year the Civil War ended and President Lincoln was assassinated, themes of peace and quiet would probably have been welcome to Americans. In that year, the Rev. Phillips Brooks took a trip to Israel and saw Bethlehem and its surrounding fields on Christmas Eve, which eventually inspired him to write this Christmas hymn. In contrast to some other Christmas hymns that emphasize the glory of God as seen in the grand chorus of angels, Brooks focuses on the quietness of Christ’s birth, and how little the larger world paid attention. The final stanza is a prayer that Christ would come and be present with us.”Excerpt from Hymnary.org
In the stillness of the night while mortals slept, God came to a little town called Bethlehem.
Bethlehem was a small town located about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem in the hills of Judea. The word “Bethlehem” actually means “House of Bread” in Hebrew. The shepherds of Bethlehem had a unique job in that they were in charge of the lambs being raised for temple sacrifices. Bethlehem was also the birthplace of King David and is known as the “City of David.”
David’s origin began in Bethlehem with the story of his great grandmother Ruth. Because famine had come to the House of Bread, Naomi and her family left Bethlehem and went to Moab where food was in abundance. After her husband and sons tragically died, Naomi returned to Bethlehem with her daughter in-law Ruth. They had lost everything and were impoverished widows in need of a redeemer. Not only that, but Ruth was a Gentile and alienated from the house of Israel. What grace we see in Ruth’s redemption story! Just as Boaz redeemed Ruth as her kinsman redeemer, so Jesus redeemed us when our hearts were destitute and alienated from Him.
In God’s providence, Ruth and Boaz were the grandparents to Jesse who was the father of King David. We know who came from the lineage of David. “….Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1b NASB). The prophets foretold that there would be a future King (Jesus) coming from the line of David who would sit on the throne eternally.
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will come forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His times of coming forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.Micah 5:2 NASB
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.Matthew 2:6 NASB
Jesus, the perfect, sacrificial Lamb of God was born in the little town of Bethlehem near the fields where the lambs were kept for temple sacrifices. He who is the Bread of Life was born in the House of Bread.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
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 6:32-35 NASB
What an amazing and miraculous truth of Advent! Every detail of the Christmas story reflects God’s beautiful redemption plan. From the shepherds to the angels, to the sacrificial lambs on the hillside, to the very town in which Jesus was born, all of it weaves the wondrous story of Christmas. God brought Ruth to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, knowing that a thousand years later -through her line- the Bread of Life would be born there. My heart just wants to worship as I write this! Only God could write this story.
This hymn was not only relevant to Americans in the 1800’s, but it is also SO relevant to us today in 2020! If anything, this year has caused us to look up. The hope of the world and every human heart is found only in Jesus Christ.
1. Read Isaiah 9:1-7. This passage is a beautiful picture of redemption. What do you learn about redemption and the Redeemer in these verses?
2. What does God promise to do in Psalm 81:10. How do you think this compares to Jesus being the Bread of Life?
3. According to Isaiah 58:11. Who is the only One who can truly satisfy the longing in our souls?
5. Have you ever tried to seek after things that don’t satisfy? How does the truth of Jesus being the Bread of Life encourage you to look to Him for sustenance?
Take some time to surrender your heart afresh to the Savior. Thank Him for being the Bread of Life.
Click here to listen to Steven Curtis Chapman sing this timeless hymn on YouTube.
Click here to listen to Steven Curtis Chapman sing this timeless hymn on Spotify.