Continuing in the Christmas series discussing the women in Jesus’ genealogy.
“Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).”
Ruth stakes her place on the list of Jesus’ ancestors with some fairness, we think. After all, she gets an entire book of the Bible named after her. She must have some more redeeming qualities than, say, the two previous women who either acted like or were actual prostitutes. (Tamar and Rahab. See the two previous posts.) Finally, we think, Matthew hits upon one woman who actually deserves to make the cut.
Ruth had had a tough life. She lost her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law. She was childless, though still young. Her mother-in-law, with no sons or husband, opted to return home and face hopeless poverty there rather than in a foreign country. Ruth chose to come with her mother-in-law so she would not die alone.
Ruth could have returned to her own people and married again. She could have had a future. But she knew Naomi could not. She knew the older woman was likely to live in desperate poverty and loneliness, and she would not allow that if she could help it. She sacrificed her own well being for that of a woman who no longer had any legal claim on her but a heart claim that would be honored.
She works hard, long hours of manual labor to provide the smallest of resources. She obeys Naomi’s plans. She conducts herself with humility, modesty, and dignity. She does everything right.
Ruth is the unchallenged good girl of the list. Everyone loves her; everyone speaks well of her; she gets her guy in the end. If anyone deserves a place on the list, she does.
But I doubt she felt that way. I am guessing that, without the benefit of our retrospect, she felt very much forgotten and unsure of her future. As a foreigner, she must have felt scrutinized and suspected at every turn, aware that she could be turned away from anywhere because of her nationality. That sounds quite familiar to some people still, thousands of yeas later. Hundreds of Ruths come ashore daily in Europe or cross the borders of Central and North America. Without the beautiful ending of the story we get to read, Ruth must have felt more vulnerable than you or I can ever imagine.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say many people feel like Ruth in other ways. They’ve done the right things. They’ve tried to follow God. They’ve chosen the right path and don’t understand why it’s leading not to success and prosperity but to worry and insecurity. Their road has led to feeling bare and open to powers that control them but may not have their welfare in mind. The happy ending we read about feels more than uncertain.
Ruth is in this list because she needs provision. She needs trust in an uncertain future. She needs to know she’ll be taken care of, not because she did all the right things but because there is someone with enough power and enough love to lift her out of her worries and put her above them.
She finds it in Boaz, but Christmas offers so much more even than that good man. We are offered One with all the resources of the universe who looks down on us and says, “I’ll care for that one. That one’s mine.”
That’s the promise of Christmas.
It’s not a promise of all we need and no worries forever. God is not the author of hakuna matata, Disney is. And much as I love the princesses, I do not look to them for my theology.
Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:22-32).
What Christmas is is a promise of provision. A testimony that in the middle of whatever uncertainty life holds, there is sustenance for survival in turning to him. It may get worse before it gets better. It may honestly never get better in this life. But there is hope-sustaining love to keep the spirit alive sheltered in that baby in the manger.
“O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.”