This morning, let’s go back… to nearly the beginning of the story… and do some genealogy.
Pastor Todd and I are going to start us off this morning with Matthew chapter 1, verses 1-6… from the Voice translation:
1 This is the family history, the genealogy, of Jesus the Anointed, the coming King. You will see in this history that Jesus is descended from King David, and that He is also descended from Abraham.
It begins with Abraham, whom God called into a special, chosen, covenanted relationship, and who was the founding father of the nation of Israel.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac; Isaac was the father of Jacob; Jacob was the father of Judah and of Judah’s 11 brothers; 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (and Perez and Zerah’s mother was Tamar);
Tamar was Judah’s widowed daughter-in-law; she dressed up like a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law, all so she could keep this very family line alive.
Perez was the father of Hezron; Hezron was the father of Ram; 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab; Amminadab was the father of Nahshon; Nahshon was the father of Salmon; 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (and Boaz’s mother was Rahab);
Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who heroically hid Israelite spies from hostile authorities who wanted to kill them.
Boaz was the father of Obed (his mother was Ruth, a Moabite woman who converted to the Hebrew faith); Obed was the father of Jesse; 6 and Jesse was the father of David, who was the king of the nation of Israel. David was the father of Solomon (his mother was Bathsheba, and she was married to a man named Uriah);
As Matthew prepares to tell us the story of Christ’s birth, he feels compelled to share with us this family tree.
An unexpected family tree.
It includes widows and adulteresses and prostitutes… and those are just the women!
So let us listen today, for how God moves through unexpected people and in unexpected ways to bring to us a redeemer…
Our scripture for this morning comes from the book of Ruth. It is the story of Naomi and her husband Elimelech had two sons and they lived in Bethlehem.
But a famine took over the land so they became refugees. They fled from hunger and made their way to Moab, which was enemy territory.
We might see their faces in the images of refugees from Syria and Iraq and northern Africa today… Camping in muddy fields, clothes wet from the journey, their only possessions what they could carry, completely unsure if they will be welcomed wherever they arrive.
When they finally get to a place of relative safety, Elimelech dies, leaving Naomi and her two boys, Mahlon and Kilion.
Years pass and they grow up and they each marry Moabite women… Ruth and Orpah.
But then one son after the other die.
Naomi has lost her homeland, her husband, and her two sons. There is no one left to carry on her family line or to bring her protection.
In this culture and time, when one son died and left the family childless, a brother or relative would provide security by marrying the daughter-in-law and preserving property and lineage. This kinsman redeemer would save the family by doing whatever it took to protect them.
But Naomi was far from home, no relatives to speak of, her situation was desperate and hopeless.
She plans to return to Bethlehem, to live as a widow… she is content to beg for the rest of her sad and bitter life.
And she tries to send her daughters-in-law away… to give them the opportunity for a fresh start, a new life.
But Ruth sticks with her.
Ruth refuses to leave Naomi’s side.
And Ruth makes the journey back to Bethlehem with her… not knowing what the future would hold, but determined to play a part in making sure both of them would be taken care of.
Think about a time when you felt like Naomi… when everything around you was falling apart.
Turn and share with your neighbor this morning:
What got… or is getting you through it?
Who do you turn to for help?
Naomi had reached rock bottom in her life.
Everything was gone, everything was lost.
As she and Ruth make the journey back to Bethlehem, she begs people to call her Mara – The Bitter One.
She is grieving, lonely, and depressed.
But Ruth is there to act.
Ruth takes the initiative to provide for them by gleaning grain from the fields.
And while she is out working, a man named Boaz sees her, treats her kindly, and seeds of hope are planted.
That is where our scripture picks up today.
Naomi realizes that Boaz was a relative, someone who could marry Ruth and redeem their family property and provide an heir.
She lays out a plan for Ruth to present herself to Boaz as a potential wife.
He is intrigued and after going through all the proper channels, Boaz is please to marry this Moabite woman to protect her family. They give birth to a child, Obed, and Naomi is redeemed.
None of us would be sitting here today if it were not for Ruth.
A fellow pastor, Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly, writes:
“Ruth is called a woman of hayil – a Hebrew word usually reserved for men – meaning strength, power, warrior-like capabilities. Though by our modern standards Ruth seems be subservient, in actuality, given the text and the time, she was an amazingly powerful woman. She refuses to take no for an answer (from Naomi or Boaz), she secures the livelihood of her family, she boldly takes on a new life in the face of seeming destruction, and she births the grandfather of David…”
Without Ruth, there would be no King David… no 23rd Psalm… no continuing lineage that will take us all the way to Joseph and Mary and Jesus in Bethlehem.
She is a foreigner in a strange land.
She lost her own husband and then gave up everything she knew to support Naomi and work to provide for her.
Ruth did whatever she needed to do without question or complaint.
In my bible, the heading for the final section of our reading for today says “Boaz redeems Ruth.”
And technically, according to the rituals and traditions of the time, by buying the family property and marrying her, he has fulfilled the role of the kinsman redeemer and has protected their family.
But even the women of the town see clearly that Ruth is the true redeemer.
“Blessed be God! He didn’t leave you without family to carry on your life…” The Message translation reads… “This daughter-in-law who has brought Obed into the world and loves you so much, why she’s worth more to you than seven sons!”
As we head into the Advent and Christmas season, we discover that this love of Ruth for Naomi is echoed in the story of Jesus.
It is sticking by someone even when we didn’t have to… like Joseph with his pregnant fiancée Mary.
It is taking a risk and traveling to a strange land… like Mary and Joseph did when they fled from the wrath of Herod.
It is giving hospitality to strangers and looking to see what gifts they might bring.
It is waiting patiently for God to move in our lives, as we continue to take steps forward in the direction we think we should be going.
Love is not passive. It is hard and risky and a scary thing.
Love takes work.
And today we give thanks to God for Ruth, who near the beginning of our Savior’s story, near the beginning of OUR story, chose to love and in doing so, played a part in redeeming us all.
Amen and amen.