A Beautiful Mess: Ruth, Christmas & You
Advent is a time of reflection. On what God did in sending Jesus the first time, and, longing for what He will do when Jesus comes again.
In all honesty, I’ve found my reflection, and prayerful waiting tends to be pretty vague. I spend a few minutes reading part of ‘the Christmas story’ from Luke 1-3, throw up a few quick prayers, and often leave it at that. That’s certainly better than nothing, but not all that transforming.
Maybe you can identify. You want Advent to be a time of real growth for you, but in reality… not so much. How can we do this better?
I’m not going to detail a bunch of ideas here, although that might be a good idea for future years. Instead, I’ll just share something I’m learning from the Book of Ruth, where God showed me a new connection with what he did through Jesus at Christmas. And what it means for us.
It helped nudge me beyond my status quo way of looking at Christmas, and I think it will encourage you, too.
Entering The Mess
Ruth demonstrates an amazing superpower: the ability to reject playing it safe in favor of taking big risks. Here are two examples:
- her journey from Moab to Bethlehem. At the beginning of the book, Naomi’s husband and two sons all die, leaving her with only her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Orpah does the normal, safe and expected thing: she goes back to her father’s home where she can make a new beginning and try to start a family (14). Ruth takes the risky, crazier step of following Naomi back to Bethlehem, come what may: ‘where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God’ (1:16). She’s saying goodbye to everything she’s known: her family, her country, and her faith (see 1:15).
- her risky marriage proposal. In our times, it’s still highly unusual for a woman to propose to her future husband. But in the Ancient Near East, it just didn’t happen. Ever. And yet, Ruth willingly follows Naomi’s risky plan and invites Boaz to marry her. It’s way more awkward, and complex than I have space to convey here, but you can read about it in Ruth 3:1-9. (See v.9 for the proposal.) Her actions could have easily been misinterpreted as sexual impropriety (see 3:14), and, Boaz could have rejected her.
From these quick examples, it’s easy to see that Ruth is no ordinary woman. She is bold and fearless, willing to take extreme risks at a time when women were not encouraged to.
Life Out Of Death
Ruth’s risks bring life to everyone around her.
- Naomi is provided for through Ruth’s hard work. With wealthy Boaz on the scene, her daily needs are secure. And after God gives Boaz and Ruth a child, her world sparkles with a joy and laughter that reverse the anguish from losing her husband and sons (see Ruth 4:13-17).
- Boaz, much older than Ruth, finds a Proverbs 31 wife (before they existed) and starts a family after he had probably given up hope.
- Ruth marries a godly man, finally has a child after trying for ten years (see 1:4), and – oh, yeah – winds up in the genealogy of the Messiah despite being a foreigner from a nation historically at odds with Israel.
I’d say that Ruth’s courage was richly rewarded! Through her bold faith, Naomi and even Israel experienced a real deliverance that was pivotal to God’s saving work.
And, of course, we benefit, too. Ruth’s son Obed became King David’s grandfather, and David became Israel’s prototypical ruler, the best picture Israel had of their future Messiah until he came 1,000 years later.
Jesus, Our Greater Ruth, Arrives At Christmastime
And when he finally came, he looked a lot like Ruth. No, not physically. But he displayed the same kind of courage and risky love that Ruth did, only far greater.
This is something we usually miss at Christmas, when the God of the Universe became a vulnerable, human baby boy. He subjected himself to the care of two teenage parents, nearly died at Herod’s hands, lived in obscurity for 30 years, suffered God’s infinite wrath on the cross, and entrusted the future of the world to 11 uneducated, fearful men who ran away when he needed them most.
Unlike Ruth, there was no happy ending for Jesus. But his act of sacrificial meant life for us: ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace’ (Ephesians 1:7).
A Christmas Challenge
So we’ve looked at Ruth’s lavish, risky love and what it accomplished. We’ve seen how Jesus’s Ruth-like love did far more in buying us back from sin for God.
But Jesus’s love does more than save us. It also sets for us an example of radical love that should send shock waves through the little moments of our everyday lives.
Will we enter the risk and mess of an imperfect life so that others can thrive, or, will we play it safe and stay on the sidelines where we’re shielded (we think) from harm?
Personally, I’m faced with this decision multiple times each day. When my kids get cranky and I just want to play the ‘parent card’ to contain the debris. When I have to slow down and think through the email that requires a thoughtful response. When a neighbor wants to talk when I’m tired. And when I should help getting ready for Christmas but don’t feel like it.
How about you? Where are the spots in your life where Jesus is calling you to get dirty, to willingly enter the fray so that others might live?
It’s one thing to do it out of duty, but it’s far better to serve out of a rich understanding of all that God did in sending his son for us. Into a broken, messy and unpredictable world when it would’ve been easier to stay home.
This Christmas, I invite you to jump into the kind of messy, unpredictable spaces that Ruth and Jesus did so that you – and others – can find real life.
Where is your life consistently messy? What would it look like for you to willingly engage that for Christ so that others could benefit?[For an in-depth look at Ruth’s life, and the implications for our everyday lives, see Paul Miller’s phenomenal book, A Loving Life: In A World of Broken Relationships.]