Summary: The sermon explores the way Ruth’s suffering and ultimate triumph serve as a model for people who grieve during Advent.
Ruth: A Model of Mercy
The Christmas season is often an emotional one. Frequently we feel stress over finding time and money to purchase presents and getting them wrapped, or we anticipate the joy of anticipating time with family. Many people experience different and more difficult emotions at Christmas; however, they experience grief and loneliness, which are only magnified by the supposed cheer of the season. Anyone prone to depression will be tempted to feel it more deeply during advent season. People who have lost a spouse through death or divorce will know sorrow. I can’t even imagine the devastation those who have lost a child feel during the Christmas holidays. Right now, one friend of mine is facing a grandchild in jail for rape, another mourns the husband she lost this year, and another friend’s toddler faces life-threatening surgery. I don’t know how many of you are experiencing these threats, but chances are some of us here find the holidays very challenging. Our text today offers hope and comfort especially for those who grieve during Advent.
Most of us are familiar with the story of Ruth and Naomi. Naomi, her husband, and two sons went to Moab from Israel during a time of drought. They hoped for prosperity there, as her sons married and could have fathered children, which were regarded as a sign of God’s blessing then and now. Instead, Naomi lost first her husband, then her two sons. She was left with only her two daughters in law. She advised them to leave her and find husbands in their homeland. One stayed in Moab, but Ruth proclaimed her steadfast love to her mother in law, saying, “"Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me." Naomi quietly accepted Ruth’s promise of love and loyalty and her circumstances began to change.
In Ruth’s response, we find the first application of this story to our own lives, when we experience loss and wonder where God is. Ruth acts as an agent of God, even though she was born as a foreigner, and a stranger to God’s promises. Ruth’s loyal love shows us that God has not forsaken Naomi, but is present with her in the person of Ruth. Naomi asked her neighbors to call her not pleasant, the meaning of Naomi, but Mara, meaning bitter. She felt that God had treated her poorly. Yet, God was present with her even in her time of doubt. God was already acting to restore her life and provide for her needs. If you are wondering where God is during this stress filled season, remember God is with you too. God is working to help you, even when you don’t see God.
Second, Ruth allied herself not only with Naomi, but with Yahweh, her God. We have to wonder why she did this. Naomi’s history didn’t exactly recommend faith in her God. What had her God done, but leave her alone and without a source of income in a foreign country. Yet, inexplicably, Ruth chose to worship the God of her mother-in-law. She chose faith in a time of testing.
The women had returned to Bethlehem, which means house of bread in Hebrew. What an irony that in a place with this name, their only hope of survival lay in the charity of being allowed to glean in stranger’s fields. “It so happened” that Ruth chose to glean in Boaz’s field, a close relative of Naomi, who was older and single. Here we see God’s quiet providence again. Boaz had heard of Ruth’s character. He told her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. 12 "May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge." Ruth’s choice of faith in the midst of trial would not be a fatal choice, but would be rewarded by God’s blessing. Not only would God act to save her and Naomi, but God would bring about a salvation that would be beyond anything for which they could hope. Boaz’s blessing of Ruth for-shadowed the end of the story, when Ruth would bear an heir for Elizabeth from whose bloodline would come Israel’s greatest king and our Savoir, Christ.