Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the fourth Wednesday of Advent 12/22/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 7:00pm, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the hymns and order of service can be found in the Lutheran Service Book (LSB):
Order of Service – LSB page 243
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Fourth Wednesday of Advent, click here.
At the beginning of Ruth’s story, she wasn’t in Israel. And not just her. There was also no king in Israel. And everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
It wasn’t complete anarchy, of course. There were systems by which they made decisions. A group of elders gathered at a gate; a sandal taken off and placed on another; even passers-by could join in the conversation and offer common sense. Sometimes what is right in one’s own eyes agrees with enough people to make decisions.
There were no certainties as to how it would all work out. But these were the risks that had to be taken.
When her father-in-law died and her husband died, Ruth, the woman of Moab, took a risk. She renounced her native gods to cling to the God of Israel. She sacrificed her own security. And, she returned to Bethlehem with Naomi, her mother-in-law.
In Bethlehem the Lord provided them with daily bread, confirming the rumors Naomi had heard. That bread was gleaned and given from the field of a relative named Boaz.
Then Naomi took a risk. She made a plan for herself and her daughter-in-law. She sent Ruth to the threshing floor of Boaz at night. When he woke suddenly, Ruth spoke quickly, offering herself in marriage:
I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.
Ruth and Naomi trusted God, and their trust led them to act in faith. Like Moses in Psalm 90, they worked hard, took risks, and prayed,
O Lord, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17
Fear paralyzes and leads to death, but faith engergizes and brings life. The same goes for us. The saints live “by faith.” (Hebrews 11) This faith is living and active in the world and for the neighbor. Ruth and Naomi are examples for us.
Now it’s Boaz’s turn.
He committed himself to Ruth in marriage —not yet public knowledge— and also he committed himself to provide for Naomi, but there’s still work to be done. There’s a redeemer closer than him.
Boaz could’ve hesitated, made excuses, or put it off. But he didn’t. It was important, and so he acted right away.
He believed that God would be faithful. He trusted that His steadfast love never comes to an end. So why wait? What more did he need?
The details are less important for us than the big picture, but I’ll try to explain briefly: it was a matter of ancient Israelite family law and property rights. When Elimelech took his family to Moab eleven years earlier, he “sold” his land, that is, he sold the rights to the upcoming harvests until the fiftieth year, the Jubilee, when the land would return to the family.
Now Naomi is asking the closest relative to do his duty as redeemer and “buy” back those harvest rights, which would also mean committing to care for her for the rest of her life. Boaz challenges the redeemer to do just that—and rebukes him for being slow. Now the other guy decides that it’s a good deal. He can buy the harvest rights, take care of the widow Naomi (but not Ruth), and then, because there’s no heir, the land will eventually become part of his own permanent inheritance.
“I will redeem it,” he says (verse 4). It’s a calculated act of self-interest, not an act of faith or love. And it cuts Ruth out of the picture entirely.
And that’s when Boaz plays his trump card: whatever the redeemer does, Boaz will marry Ruth.
He’s not obligated to do that—no one is. But he’s willing to do it. He’s willing to go above and beyond what the law requires. He’s willing to take, Ruth, a foreigner, into his home and to provide for widow Naomi.
And he’s willing, if God so blesses them, to father an heir for Elimelech’s family so that the family name continues and the family keeps its inheritance in the promised land.
Since the other man can see that the family name will likely continue now through Ruth, he doesn’t think it’s all that lucrative. And he’s not all that charitable.
But Boaz is. Because Boaz is a picture of Jesus. Boaz loves someone who by every expectation would be cast off.
This is not a romance. It’s not that kind of love story. It is, however, a story of faithfulness and steadfast, sacrificial love. It’s a story of faith—of faith that acts in love. It means that any children Boaz already has will get less — they’ll have to share their father’s inheritance with any children born of Ruth.
Boaz is God’s solution to the problem of two widows with no one to care for them, of a family-line about to be cut off, of an inheritance in the land that will disappear forever.
You hear the joy and delight of the people who witness what Boaz does.
We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.
So, Boaz married Ruth, she conceived, and a son was born in Bethlehem.
Now Naomi has a redeemer. Her life is restored. She is nourished in her old age. The line of Elimelech and Mahlon receives an heir. What started with death, ends with life — it’s a mini-resurrection.
They named the child Obed—“one who serves”—and the family story continues.
Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of David
And that’s how Ruth ends: with David, with a King in Israel. Because God’s story moves forward.
He promised a redeemer to Adam and Eve – the promise of the seed of the woman, who would set right everything that had gone wrong, who would restore them and their children to the land they lost through sin. And Naomi and Ruth and Boaz — their stories are wrapped up in that bigger story.
Naomi has an heir, a descendent, and that’s good. The family keeps its inheritance in the promised land, and that’s good. Ruth becomes a mother in Israel through faith, and that’s good. The nation receives a shepherd—David—to lead them, and that’s also good. But look further in time, further up the family tree, and you see more: the world will have a Savior, Jesus, for Jesus is the Son of David and David’s heir, descended from Boaz through Ruth.
He is the child for whom the world was waiting. He is the solution to our sin, our death, our loss, our grief, and our sorrow. He is the world’s redeemer.
We confess this in the Creeds when we call Jesus Christ our “Lord.” That “little word Lord means” that He is “the One who has brought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness,” and who preserves us to the end (LC II, 31).
You know what it cost Him. You know what He spent and risked. You know the blood He shed. Through Him, you have God’s favor. You will never be cut off. You will never be alienated from the promises. You have an inheritance that cannot be taken away.
As the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz draws to its end, God’s story moves forward, and our stories continue, as well.
We don’t know exactly how they will go. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We don’t know what losses and trials we’ll face. We don’t know what risks and sacrifices we’ll be called to make.
But we do know this: We know that God will give us opportunities to put our faith into action. We know that family, friends, and neighbors will need our love and service. We know that God has a plan that is beyond our imagining, and that He will see it through to the end.
And we know that He not only can but will work through us, sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ; He will work through us for the good of others.
As these saints of old, Boaz, Naomi, and Ruth, be bold. Believe boldly. Live boldly. Love sacrificially and generously.
For, in the end, it will turn out far better than we could possibly imagine, because Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth, and Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David, through whom was born in Bethlehem our dear Lord Jesus, the Christ.