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Still Abiding In Hope [12-8-19]

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

We're still in the Book of Ruth. Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, is a tragic character. Her story has been about loss. She's lost her husband and two sons. She's lost her home. She's lost her land. Naomi's story is about loss. But we closed last Sunday with a question. Does the story have to be about loss? Naomi lived through a lot of pain and loss. But is that what it has to be about? Gerald Sittser was in a car accident. The car he was driving was hit by a drunk driver in a minivan. In the accident, he lost three generations in his family. He lost his mother, he lost his wife, and he lost his young daughter. Sittser wrote a book about his journey of grief titled, "A Grief Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss." Here's what he says: "The experience of loss does not need to be the defining moment of our story." You see, it would be one thing for me so say that. But when you consider that the book was written in response to the horrific upheaval in his life, his words are weightier. Sittser goes on to say: "The defining moment can be our response to the loss. The story doesn't have to be about loss. The story can be about responding to the loss." Here's another way to say it. The fact of life is that, many times, we don't get to decide what roles we play in life. But we can decide how we play the roles we're given. I hope that makes sense to you. You get to a point in your life where you ask, "Is the story of my life going to be defined by loss, or something else?" Could it be something else? Because so much of life is in the moment; it's immediate; it feels like a barrage of one thing after another; we tend to focus on what's right in front of us. It's hard for us to see the bigger picture. But here's what we're going to see in Naomi's life. Here's a one word description of Naomi's life: Redemption. How fitting is that word 17 days before Christmas? Centuries before the birth of our Savior, Ruth foreshadows what Matthew proclaims when he says, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Redemption from loss, sin, and death. Once Ruth and Naomi arrive in Bethlehem, Ruth goes into the fields to pick up grain left behind by the farmer. It is barley harvest season. Ruth's out there because the common practice is for farmers to leave a portion of the harvest behind so poorer people won't starve. It is their safety net. While she's out there picking grain, Ruth gets noticed. She gets noticed by the final main character in this story. His name is Boaz. His name means, "Strength is with him." You're going to see how appropriate that name is as the story develops. Ruth 2:3-4 says: So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. Are you beginning to connect this story with Christmas? Notice the phrase, "and she happened." Amazing, right? Ruth just happens to go to the field owned by Boaz. Boaz is from the same extended family as her now deceased father-in-law Elimelech, so Boaz, though older, as a relative of her also deceased husband, Mahlon, is in line to step in to care for Ruth. Ruth doesn't know about the connection with Boaz. But God does. God does. Boaz notices Ruth. He befriends her. When Naomi finds out, she decides to play matchmaker. She says to Ruth, "Here's what you do. Bathe. Put on your best clothes and your best perfume. Go to where he's working. After he's done eating and drinking, he's going lie down in the barn to sleep. When he does, as he's slipping off to sleep, you lie down at his feet to let him know that you are available for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He'll tell you what to do." Please, don't project our mindset onto this moment. Ruth is not seducing Boaz. She's not trying to get him to sleep with her. They're not about to break into "Baby It's Cold Outside." Naomi is advising Ruth to prepare herself as a bride…to make a proposal to Boaz. In a bold move, Ruth is telling Boaz she's willing to make a new life with him. Let's look at what happens next. Beginning at Ruth 3:8-11: In the middle of the night the man was suddenly startled and sat up. Surprise! This woman asleep at his feet! He said, “And who are you?” She said, “I am Ruth, your maiden; take me under your protecting wing. You’re my close relative, you know, in the circle of covenant redeemers - you do have the right to marry me.” He said, “God bless you, my dear daughter! What a splendid expression of love! And when you could have had your pick of any of the young men around. And now, my dear daughter, don’t you worry about a thing; I’ll do all you could want or ask." This is such a beautiful story. It is perfect for Christmas. Boaz takes on the role of guardian-redeemer. Here's a good working definition of guardian-redeemer: A guardian-redeemer was a close, influential relative to whom members of the extended family could turn for help, usually when the family line or possessions were in danger of being lost. In the bigger, spiritual picture, the idea of a guardian-redeemer finds its ultimate fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah 59:20 puts it this way: "And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression," declares the Lord. In the case of Ruth, the guardian-redeemer steps in to buy the land of his dead relative, to keep it out of the hands of another tribe or family. So Boaz comes along and says, "I will take the property of Elimelech and I will take responsibility for Ruth." Make no mistake. Boaz is making a huge offer and sacrifice. Ruth is a Moabite. She's a foreigner. She's from a pagan culture. But Boaz says, "I will love who no one else will love. I will care for who no one else will care for. I will redeem who no one else will redeem." Boaz will be the guardian-redeemer. I thank God daily that Covenant Church is a Boaz-like church. We love others. We care for others. We embrace God's redemptive work in our community. How many of you are nearsighted? I take my glasses of, and for all I know, I'm preaching to a room full of Ewoks {put picture up on screen}. Without my glasses, I can see neither doodly nor squat. But my glasses - corrective lenses - help me see near and far. The light of the gospel helps us see clearly the needs around us. Our walk with Jesus Christ corrects our vision. Because our Redeemer lives, we love and care for others. We become like Boaz, a guardian-redeemer. We are a small church in a small town with a big ideas: Celebrate Recovery. Back-Pack Blow-Out. Glorious and God-honoring worship. The Learning Cove. Youth Ministry that is focused on discipleship. Mercy Fund. And so many more ways in which we love our community. Because we see our community. And we know how Jesus wants us to love our community. God blesses our church so we can be a blessing to others. If you're with me on that, let's all say "Amen." So, Boaz falls for Ruth. He makes plans to redeem Ruth as the guardian-redeemer. But we find out there is a closer relative than Boaz, and he has the right of first refusal. So the situation is explained to him, and he's on board. He likes the idea of gaining the property. Now, remember, Boaz likes Ruth. So Boaz tells him, "By the way, in order to maintain the deed on the property, you also have to welcome Ruth, the foreigner, the woman from Moab." That's the point where the man tells Boaz, thanks but no thanks. Let's finish the story from 4:7-22: In the olden times in Israel, this is how they handled official business regarding matters of property and inheritance: a man would take off his shoe and give it to the other person. This was the same as an official seal or personal signature in Israel. So when Boaz’s “redeemer” relative said, “Go ahead and buy it,” he signed the deal by pulling off his shoe. Boaz then addressed the elders and all the people in the town square that day: “You are witnesses today that I have bought from Naomi everything that belonged to Elimelech and Chilion and Mahlon, including responsibility for Ruth the foreigner, the widow of Mahlon - I’ll take her as my wife and keep the name of the deceased alive along with his inheritance. The memory and reputation of the deceased is not going to disappear out of this family or from his hometown. To all this you are witnesses this very day.” All the people in the town square that day, backing up the elders, said, “Yes, we are witnesses. May God make this woman who is coming into your household like Rachel and Leah, the two women who built the family of Israel. May God make you a pillar in Ephrathah and famous in Bethlehem! With the children God gives you from this young woman, may your family rival the family of Perez, the son Tamar bore to Judah.” Boaz married Ruth. She became his wife. Boaz slept with her. By God’s gracious gift she conceived and had a son. The town women said to Naomi, “Blessed be God! He didn’t leave you without family to carry on your life. May this baby grow up to be famous in Israel! He’ll make you young again! He’ll take care of you in old age. And this daughter-in-law who has brought him into the world and loves you so much, why, she’s worth more to you than seven sons!” Naomi took the baby and held him in her arms, cuddling him, cooing over him, waiting on him hand and foot. The neighborhood women started calling him “Naomi’s baby boy!” But his real name was Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David. This is the family tree of Perez: Perez had Hezron, Hezron had Ram, Ram had Amminadab, Amminadab had Nahshon, Nahshon had Salmon, Salmon had Boaz, Boaz had Obed, Obed had Jesse, and Jesse had David. What a beautiful story. What a gift of grace. Boaz has no obligation to do what he does. It is grace and kindness. What a wonderful gift. Here's how it all comes together. Naomi's great-great-grandson is King David. Ruth's great-grandson is King David. What an amazing gift for all of them and all of us. One last thing. When we get to the New Testament, and we open to Matthew, because it's Christmas and Matthew has a birth narrative, we see Matthew's birth narrative begins with a genealogy, and all the names are there. Notorious. Pagans. Good people. Bad people. Nothing is held back from the family tree of our Savior. Rahab the prostitute is there. Rahab was the mother of Boaz. And as we've seen, Boaz married a foreign woman and redeemed her. And they had a son named Obed who had a son named Jesse who had a son named David. Then, years later, in Bethlehem, the same Bethlehem where the story of Naomi and Ruth and Boaz took place, extreme circumstances brought another couple, Mary and Joseph to that same Bethlehem, and another baby was born. Naomi and Ruth and Boaz had no clue that out of their story would be born the Messiah, the guardian-redeemer of the world. Through God's grace and mercy, Naomi's story wasn't about pain and loss. It was about redemption. I hope, more than anything else, that as you open God's Christmas gift to you, in Jesus Christ you will find joy and peace and victory over sin and death. Amen.

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