Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Hunger no more

12/22/2017

BY BISHOP JIMMY NUNN
The opening words of the Christmas carol “Away in a Manger” lament the fact that the bed for newborn Jesus was a manger. He didn’t get to sleep in a crib. The sentiment offers a subtle judgment on Jesus’s parents. It suggests that, had we been there, we would have provided a crib, not a manger, for the birth of the Son of God.  
Have you ever thought about the message of the manger?
Normally a manger is a place for animals to eat, not a spot for anyone to sleep.
But throughout scripture, physical hunger is symbolic of spiritual hunger, and bread is often the food that satisfies hunger.  
In Exodus, the people wandered in the wilderness. They were hungry. God met their need and gave them quail and manna.
And the people responded to God’s provision with a question.
“What is it?” (Exodus 16:15)
Those were the words the Hebrew people asked Moses when they saw manna from heaven for the first time.
It could be gathered, but could not be possessed. It came in the right amount, never too little or too much. When the people gathered too much, the manna spoiled. When they failed to gather enough, it stretched to meet the need.  
What is it?
Translated literally, manna means “a whatness” — and the question “What is it?” is phrasing that is better understood.
The Hebrew people tried to define “what is it.” They gave it the name manna. They thought manna was a means to satisfy their daily hunger. But what they named and ate could sustain them only one day at a time in the wilderness.
A physical solution for a spiritual hunger fails to satisfy the deeper need.  
Manna was not really “it.” While the bread made from the manna collected by the Hebrews satisfied physical hunger, it never fulfilled the deepest needs of the soul. “It” would not be defined; instead, “it” defined a people.  
When the time came for the birth of Jesus, the whole world asked, “What is it?”  
A baby was born in Bethlehem. That city name means “house of bread.” Jesus later called himself the Bread of Life.  
The Bread of Life was born in the House of Bread. As an infant, he was wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger, the place where the animals came to eat.
In the House of Bread, the Bread of Life was laid in the breadbasket.
When the angels appeared to the shepherds, proclaiming the birth of Jesus, those shepherds responded to the announcement by declaring, “Let us go to Bethlehem to see what it is” (Luke 2:15).
I have added the italicized emphasis.
They were not going to ask the old “what is it” question. They went to find the answer to “what it is.”  
We don’t have to wonder, “What is it?” Join me on the quest to discover “what it is.” It is the Bread of Life.


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