Thursday, November 30, 2006

Feeding the animals

Start with the fact that Bethlehem...

בית לחם

...means "house of bread" in Hebrew.

Jump forward to chapter 6 in John for Jesus' definitive declaration of himself as the "bread of life" and we can see the obvious significance. The nativity narratives tell us more specifically that Christ was born in a stable and placed in a manger. But the manger is where the animals - domesticated beasts of burden - come to eat, and they aren't given bread. Is there significance in that? I think there is a connection here with the Creation account in Genesis, and with an episode of horrible inhumanity in 2 Kings ch. 6.

In Genesis, God created both man and beasts on the 6th day. The beasts came first, then man was created. Man was made from the earth, like the beasts - but was made imago dei (more specifically, made in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, but that's another angle that I've got to remember to write down before I forget it!) Jeff Cavins makes a big point about how the sinister nature of the number 6 in scripture can be tied to this "day of the beasts" connection. Man is rooted as creature with the other living creatures of the earth by being made with them on the same day. But man was made greater than the beasts with the capacity (via existence in time) to become greater through obedience to the Father.

In light of this, the significance of Jesus being born among beasts can be seen.

There was a section in 2 Kings that struck me last year when I was reading it durning Advent. There are those verses in the Bible that stop you dead in your tracks and are so easily dismissed as abberations . I've heard Psalm 137 used as an example of why scripture is not free of error, but when you actually READ it, anyone can see that the babies being dashed on the rocks are the children of Babylon - the small tormenting demons that lead us astray - it makes complete sense.

Back to 2 Kings! Here are the verses that woke me up:

25: And there was a great famine in Sama'ria, as they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove's dung for five shekels of silver.
26: Now as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, "Help, my lord, O king!"
27: And he said, "If the LORD will not help you, whence shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the wine press?"
28: And the king asked her, "What is your trouble?" She answered, "This woman said to me, `Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.'
29: So we boiled my son, and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, `Give your son, that we may eat him'; but she has hidden her son."
30: When the king heard the words of the woman he rent his clothes -- now he was passing by upon the wall -- and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath upon his body -- 31: and he said, "May God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Eli'sha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today."

Fighting over whose baby to boil! Pretty jarring imagery for sure, but I couldn't help thinking it had a greater meaning. You've got the King witnessing the horror visited upon his people. Why? Because he failed in faithful obedience to God's covenant. Who does he blame? He blames the Lord and seeks to kill the prophet in retaliation.

I'm seeing Gospel allusions here that I can't quite list in confident detail, however there is an immediate connection that can't be ignored. The suffering people had resorted to eating their children. What's worse is they end up were bickering over whose baby to eat when and reneging on their initial macabre arrangement.

As uncomfortable as it is to think about, on Christmas day, God answered the demand of the desperate woman of Israel, "Give us your son that we may eat him." What's more, the Bread of Life was first shown to the world in a manger, in a stable, amid the sounds, sights, and smell of beasts. This is a setting which should remind humanity of our own nature as lowly creatures. And when we look at the Eucharist, we should also ponder the unfathomable humility of our God, who became low so that we may rise up with Him.

And Christ is given to us, as vs 27 alludes, from the threshing floor and from the wine press.

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