Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Prophets of Advent III: Ruth of Moab

Ruth is the third woman named in the lineage of Jesus recorded in the first chapter of Matthew. Her story, told in the Hebrew Scripture of the Book of Ruth is familiar to many of us.  Well, at least the part where she refuses to leave her mother in law Naomi.

The fuller story of Ruth’s courage and faithfulness and tenacity to the family she married into leads her to begin an entirely new family, one which also leads to a religious conversion and will place her in the lineage of the House of David and elevates her lowly estate to an ancestor of the Messiah.

The story begins when a family of four, Naomi with her husband and two sons, leave Bethlehem to travel to Moab to escape the famine which has brought hardship and tragedy to the land and its people. It’s important to note that the nation of Moab was descended from Lot’s son of the same name. These families had been separated for many generations. Moab had a long history of conflict with Israel and intermarriage between the two countries was frowned upon.

Even so, Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women – Ruth and Orpah – but tragedy strikes and all three men die, leaving the women destitute in that ancient culture. With absolutely no hope for the future, the three women leave Moab and head back to Bethlehem where Naomi at least has family.

Along the way Naomi has a change of heart, and urges Orpah and Ruth to return to their families (releasing them from their marital obligations). Orpah turns around but Ruth stays, pledging the words which have become a familiar if not romantic part of wedding ceremonies “Wherever you go, I will go…your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (1:16).

Unfortunately, no one in Bethlehem is able to help the three women so Ruth comes up with a plan to work gleaning in the fields which are owned by Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi’s late husband. 

Ruth’s hard work catches the attention of Boaz, who begins to take an interest in her welfare and offers her protection and extends her some privileges.

Ruth works there until the end of the barley and wheat harvest, which is about two months. Still, no one comes to help them. 

Naomi develops a plan to help Ruth secure a marriage proposal from Boaz and instructs her to go to him privately in the dead of the night. But Ruth appeals to Boaz, asking him to assume the ancient tradition of taking on responsibility for destitute relatives. Boaz is rightly impressed by Ruth’s character and loyalty to Naomi and agrees to her proposal.

Arrangements are made – with great delicacy and finesse since there is a closer relative who must be dealt with first and money, of course, is involved – but Ruth converts to Judaism and marries Boaz and they have a son, Obed. This makes Ruth an ancestor of David, Israel’s most illustrious king.

On this third Sunday in Advent, Ruth’s story also sets our eyes, like the shepherds and wise men from the East before us, toward Bethlehem.
  • It was in Bethlehem that Judah’s tribe settled (See Advent I: Tamar.)
  • It was to Bethlehem that Naomi returned with her daughter-in-law, Ruth, the Moabite, bringing reconciliation to two families separated for generations.
  • It was in Bethlehem that Ruth and Boaz (a descendant of Rahab - see Advent II) married and had a son, Obed.
  • It was in Bethlehem that Obed raised a family, even a grandson who would be king (and who would marry Bathsheba whom we will meet next week.)
  • It was to Bethlehem that Joseph traveled with his very pregnant wife, Mary.
  • It was in Bethlehem that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was born
  • It was in the fields of Bethlehem that angels appeared to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds.
So, when you light the third – pink! – candle of your Advent wreath this evening, remember the story of one of the women in the genealogy of Jesus.

Remember Sister Ruth and her courage and strength, her valor and faithfulness to “the tie that binds” all human hearts in love over the ancient hurts that separate us. And, say a prayer for Sister Naomi whose generous heart took in her daughter-in-law even though she had many reasons that mitigated against that act of sacrificial love.

Remember and tell the story to your children that your children's children from generation to generation may know that the glory of God is the human person fully alive.

Holy God, as we begin to turn our eyes toward Bethlehem, help us to turn away from ancient fears and follow the light of Love which leads to hope and reconciliation. Give us the faithfulness and strength of Ruth to take the risks of love that we may become Children of Light and Hope and Love. 


No comments: