Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the first Wednesday of Advent 12/1/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 7:00pm, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, use the order of Evening Prayer in the Lutheran Service Book.
The text for the sermon was the day’s lesson. To read the Bible texts for the First Wednesday of Advent, click here.
Chapter 1 – Need
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25
That’s the very last verse of the book of Judges. And it’s within this context that the history of Ruth’s journey from Moab to Bethlehem occurs.
The story begins not with Ruth, but with Elimelech and his family, from Bethlehem. It starts out great. Dad goes after new opportunities. His sons grow up and get married. But then things get not so great.
The loss of her husband, compounded by the bitter grief of losing her sons, brings Naomi to a position of great vulnerability and need.
She’s so much in need that it only takes a rumor to bring her back home. While out in the fields of Moab, she heard that the LORD had visited His people, that He had gone to Bethlehem and provided for them. With no more information than that, Naomi decides to go where the LORD visits his people.
Her widowed daughter-in-law, Orpah, returns to visit her people. She goes back to her old gods and her old life. Whatever bread there may be in Bethlehem, she does not believe that it is truly for her.
But Ruth refuses. She confesses her faith not only with her mouth, but with her feet. Come what may, she will live out her faith in body, mind, and spirit.
But It’s not only for the sake of her mother-in-law, that Ruth goes with her; it is for the LORD’s sake. Whatever God, in His own wisdom and providence, decides to give them, even if it is bitterness and death, even if it seems that the hand of the LORD is against them both, they will receive it faithfully together.
This is a time of year that appeals to families and family life: hearth and home, kids and grandkids, families joined together at splendid tables and soon around a tree. And God be praised when such times bring families together. But there is something else here.
Here we learn how families are forged in times of trial. In the face of need, and loss, and grief, and loneliness, and anxiety.
In the face of these things, God is pleased to unite families together even more closely.
But those families are not bound together merely by their shared suffering and perseverance, the way military units bond in warfare. They are bound together by their shared hope. That’s why it isn’t surprising that Orpah’s decision to leave Naomi and Ruth, also means that she will return to the paganism from which she had been rescued.
Even for the faithful, suffering and being in need is not usually a welcome or joyful experience. Naomi wants to be called “Mara” (bitter) because God has dealt bitterly with her. She went away full and has come back empty. That’s the way she sees it. And I would have a difficult time telling a woman who has lost her husband and sons, who is on the verge of being dead or destitute, that this is really just a matter of framing or perspective.
But since she is in heaven and not in my study, I can say this: she’s not 100% correct. Kantor pointed out that she went into Moab without Ruth, but came back with Ruth. And that will make all the difference.
Naomi heard that the LORD had visited His people. And He would do so again. Through Ruth’s line, the empty will be filled. Mary, the virgin, the empty one – she will be made full. And that’s how she’ll enter Bethlehem. She’ll be full.
And she’ll bring to Bethlehem her Son. To the House of Bread, she’ll bring Him who is the Bread come down from heaven.
He came as a foreigner so that he would go where you go, to lodge where you lodge, to make His Father your Father, and His God your God. Where you will die and be buried, He has already died and been buried.
Of all these things we have heard more than rumors. We have reports.
The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host… Psalm 68:11
This first chapter in Ruth’s story is one of need. But it is also the story of the God who meets us in our needs of body and soul for the sake of His Son.
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in His holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; He leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. Psalm 68:5-6
You are the family He has gathered around this table, filled with the fruit of this tree. You are the family forged together through death and resurrection in Holy Baptism. The LORD has visited you, His people. And He will do so again.