3rd Sunday of Advent
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus who is our eternal Redeemer, dear friends in Christ, my 2 year old son David has learned a new word: Why. I think there’s a time in every child’s life when they learn that word and it becomes a favorite. “David, go to the toilet.” “Why?” “David, come to the table.” “Why?” “David, stop playing with that!” “Why?” “David, don’t hit your sister!” “Why?” If you have children, I’m guessing you know what that’s like. J Now, I don’t know if he just picked that up from one of his parents or one of his siblings or if he just likes saying the word and doesn’t care about an explanation. But it does strike you that he’s questioning whether someone else knows what’s better for him than he does. But, really, that’s a question that never really goes away in life. “Why?” And what about when it comes to God? Do you ever ask that question of God? Do you shake your head, look up, and wonder, “Why God?” Do you think God looks down at us and sees a bunch of little children asking “Why?” all the time? And why would we ask why? Isn’t it because our definition of life or the way things should be in life is not lining up with the way God is working things out in life? Don’t our questions come when our ideas of a good life are not matching up with what God has in the works?
You see, our relationship with God is based on trust. He doesn’t spell everything out for us, He doesn’t explain everything to us. In grace He’s given us His Word, in love He’s won us for eternal life. And He says to us, “If you give up your definition of what you think life should be and you follow me, doing the right thing, your life won’t be what you expect, probably won’t even be the good life you were hoping for, but I’ll take care of you and it will be great.” Let’s think about that as we review this incredible account about Ruth.
It all begins with the family of Elimelech. Elimelech and his wife Naomi move out of Israel and into the foreign country of Moab because a famine is devastating Israel and they don’t want to die. They had two sons who, while they were living in Moab, meet and marry two Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth. Well, in the course of time, exactly what they were trying to avoid happens! All the men die. Elimelech and his two sons. And Naomi hears that there is food once again in Judah. So she sets out to move back to her homeland. Ruth and Orpah accompany her, but Naomi urges them to stay in Moab because it will be much better for them, they’ll be by their own families, they’ll be taken care of, and have better prospects for getting married and having status in life. But that leaves Naomi in a devastating position. She’s old and she’s a widow. So, there were really 4 ways that she could be taken care of as a widow: 1. Work in the fields, but she’s too old, 2. Get married, but she’s too old 3. Your children support you, but her children are dead and her daughters in law are Moabites 4. Sell her dead husband’s property and hope that she can survive on it. And as we’ve noted before, a widow in Bible times was the most vulnerable in society. She had to live at the mercy of others. Naomi’s life is miserable, she’s lost everything in that culture that would give her meaning and significance in life. In tears, Orpah returns to her own home. But not Ruth. We’re told that Ruth “clung” to Naomi. It makes no outward sense for Ruth to go with Naomi. Her home, her family, her status, her safety, her prospects of a getting married and having a good life are in staying in Moab. But this is what we hear from Ruth, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” What a confession of faith from this Moabite woman! Finally, Naomi relents and lets Ruth come with her.
When Naomi returned there was quite a stir among the whole town of Bethlehem where she was from. This is how down Naomi is, she tells the other women to not call her Naomi, which means “pleasant,” but Mara, which means bitter. Well, Ruth immediately sets off to work in order to have food to eat. One of the things that God allowed for was farmers to not harvest every single piece of grain in their field and maximize their profits. They were actually supposed to purposely leave some in the field so the poor could go through and find food to eat. This is what Ruth did and she just so happened to pick a field that was owned by a man named Boaz. As she was going through after the harvesters, Boaz noticed her, inquired about who she was, and showed her incredible kindness. He doesn’t want her to glean in anyone else’s field, well, why not? Because he’s warned his servants not to touch her. Why would he have to do that? Well, as a Moabitess, she was an outcast of Israel and vulnerable to being hurt or harmed, he protects her, then he has her work with his working women who were harvesting, that means now she’s not just gleaning, she’s harvesting and can keep what she harvests.
Then Ruth went back to Naomi not with just a few gleanings, but a ton! Where did you get this? And Ruth tells her about Boaz and how he had been kind to her. Naomi says, “Oh my! Boaz is one of our “goels” – our kinsman redeemers.” Since Naomi had no husband or son or any income she was forced to sell her property. You see, there were two ways that a poor person could keep their property. God didn’t want all the land owned by only a few people destabilizing the economy and creating an impoverished underclass. So, first there was the year of Jubilee, every 50 years, property that had been sold would revert back to the original owner. Second, the kinsman redeemer. A close relative could “redeem” or “buy back” the property to keep it in the deceased family member’s name. Then the purchaser would buy it, maybe go into debt, work the land as Naomi’s trustee. But who would do that? But, then, in this case the land couldn’t really be restored because there was no descendant of the family. But another law also said that if a man died his unmarried brother was to marry his widow and if they had a son, that son would legally carry on the name of the deceased brother in order to preserve his deceased brother’s name in Israel. Well, this seemed to extend voluntarily to close relatives as well. Under this law, if Ruth, who was married to one of Naomi’s sons, would marry again and have a son, that child would then be able to legally claim a right to Naomi’s property and it would remain in her line. But who would do this? Who would marry a Moabite and then knowing that a male child would then be legally another families and then inherit the land you just purchased? Who would do that?
So, Ruth indicates to Boaz that she would be willing to marry him, even though he was quite a bit older than her. And what does Boaz say? “I’ll do it all. I’ll redeem Naomi’s property and also marry Ruth fully knowing that the first male child will legally carry on the name of Naomi’s family and inherit the property.” And it happened, and God blessed them with a son named Obed, who then becomes the grandson of Naomi, a son to carry on her family’s name, inherit her property and take care of her. But also think about Ruth, her life has taken a total reversal. She went from being an impoverished foreigner to having equal share of all of Boaz’s wealth –none of it she worked to earn!
A “redeemer” is really someone who “gives something to buy someone or something back.” And we have several redeemers here, don’t we? There’s the obvious one: Boaz. He takes on the debt of his relatives to keep them from poverty, he unselfishly unites himself to Ruth giving her equal share in all his wealth. But then there’s Ruth of whom the book of the Bible is named. What does she do? Every immigrant leaves their own country expecting to have a better life, but look at what Ruth does, she leaves her home country expecting a worse life! She had a choice between a life that would have seemed good and what she knew was right, was what God wanted. She knew that if she didn’t go with Naomi, Naomi’s life was humanly speaking over, she had nothing and no reason to keep going, her life was “bitter.” So, if Naomi was going to get her life back, Ruth had to give hers up! She has to give up everything to go with Naomi. She impoverishes herself so Naomi can be rich. She leaves her home, becomes a foreigner in a strange land, gives her life in marriage to Boaz, all so that Naomi’s life is redeemed, restored! Why does she do it? Because she has placed God at the center of her life, she’s going to do what is pleasing to the LORD. “I will obey, I’ll do the right thing, I won’t expect an easy life.” And she put no conditions on it, “nothing but death will keep me from doing what I need to do.”
But there’s another Redeemer far greater than Boaz or Ruth. You see, Boaz became the father of Obed, Obed had Jesse, and Jesse had King David. And one day, born in the line of David, in Bethlehem, the town of David, the ultimate Redeemer was born. Like Ruth, the Redeemer, Jesus left behind a “good” life, left behind glory, to be impoverished in a world foreign to Him because of sin. Like Ruth, He gave up His life, so that we might have eternal life. Like Boaz, He paid our debt our ransom of sin with His own blood shed on the cross. Like Boaz, He unites Himself to you with the waters of baptism and His own body and blood in the sacrament, so that all of His wealth might become your wealth. Like Boaz, He is our true relative, our God took on our human flesh and blood, not to show us how we can live a good life to please God, but to be the good life, the perfect life we couldn’t live in our place as our substitute. And greater than Ruth, our Redeemer Jesus doesn’t even let death separate us from Him, but rose from the dead to prove without a doubt that we are His eternally.
With a Redeemer like Jesus, we can give up our own definition of what we think life should be or how life should go or what we think would be a good life, and even though we might not see it or understand the why, we can do what’s right, what God wants us to do, what is God-pleasing, and know that our life might not be what we expect, but it will be great. For we have been bought eternally by our Redeemer, Jesus, Ruth’s Son, our Savior. Amen.