Its interesting that the name Bethlehem, in Arabic means “House of Meat”, and in Hebrew “House of Bread” both seem significant when related to the place of the birth of Jesus, Son of God. These meanings almost seem prophetic and symbolic of his later teaching to his followers.
Years latter, the Rabbi Jesus found himself amidst controversy. "The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me." - John 6:52-59
We have often heard lovers saying 'I love you so much I could eat you' or 'your company is food and drink to me'. Jesus is not advocating cannibalism no more than lovers are. In today's Gospel it is very much saying ‘My love for you is real and not mere words’. We can really take this love into our hearts and be nourished by Him. He really is food for our being.
Jesus states that the bread that he will give is his flesh for the life of the world. He gives his flesh in the sacrifice of the Cross, an idea those listening to could not grasp and they would comprehend even less the giving of his flesh as food.
Jesus did not want the people simply to agree with him, to assent to his ideas. He wanted them to be drawn fully into the life of God, just as he was. He invites us to be consumed by God, to let go of our reservations and hesitations and to trust in the one who gives life.
The Hymn Writer George Currie Martin wrote
Your words to me are life and health;
they fortify my soul,
enable, guide, and teach my heart
to reach it's perfect goal.
Perhaps there is a depth in the fact that the gospel tells us that, "Mary gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger," and eating trough.
Lord, in this holy season of prayer and song and laughter,
we praise you for the great wonders you have sent us:
for shining star and angel's song,
for infant's cry in lowly manger.
We praise you for the Word made flesh in a little Child.
We behold his glory, and are bathed in its radiance.
Be with us as we sing the ironies of Christmas,
the incomprehensible comprehended,
the poetry made hard fact,
the helpless Babe who cracks the world asunder.
We kneel before you: shepherds, innkeepers, wise men.
Help us to rise bigger than we are. Amen.