The Women of Jesus’ Lineage: Ruth

Scriptures: Ruth 3:6-13

[Note: This sermon was preached the third week of Advent, with a focus on the theme of Joy.]

While we’re continuing this sermon series on women in the lineage of Jesus, I would remind you – because we actually see another taste of this in today’s passage – the Bible is not a children’s story or a Disneyfied version of anything.

The Bible is straightforward and tells it like it is, like it really happened, and does not shy away from details that may be a little bit disturbing at times, or a little bit seeming untoward. It shows people as they really are. It helps sometimes to know the euphemisms that people use for things as well, which is why you should study your Bible.

As we have looked at the women in Jesus’ genealogy thus far, there were Tamar and Rahab. They were both outsiders, Canaanite women who married into the family, as it were. Tamar, having been widowed, wanted what was justly due her, that is, an heir to carry on the family name. She wanted the peace of knowing she had done right by her husband and his family, even if they weren’t doing right by her.

Rahab hoped in a God she didn’t even know, trusting Him to bring victory to His people, and His people to follow through on any promises that were made. She hoped, even though her past as a prostitute might have made her rightly afraid she would be rejected. And God honored that hope and faith, and gave her a place in the family tree of the Savior of the world.

Unexpected women, doing unexpected things. Now we come to Ruth. And what do you know? Ruth is another outsider. Do you sense a pattern here? God seems to work with all people, but especially outsiders and outcasts and those that the world would not look to and say, that’s the one I would choose.

Now Ruth was of Moab, where they were on-again off-again allies of Israel. And she ended up going with her mother-in-law back to Israel. It’s a little bit more involved than that. Because her husband had died – in fact both of Naomi’s sons had died. And we need to talk about the mother-in-law as well. You really can’t read the story of Ruth or talk about the story of Ruth without talking about her mother-in-law Naomi.

Naomi is critical in understanding Ruth’s drives, Ruth’s actions, and the importance of what happened. Naomi means “pleasantness.” But she says she changed her name to Mara, which means “bitterness,” after her two sons had died.

She went home to die, basically, and tried to send both daughters-in-law away, Ruth and Orpah. Orpah left – she went back home to her family. They were both young widows, and they could have had another life there in Moab. There was no restriction against remarrying. But Ruth stuck with her.

Ruth said, “your people are my people, your God is my God.” Her devotion to Naomi and unselfish love were remarkable to behold. Especially when you think about it, that was after her mother-in-law basically tried to send her away, saying “don’t come with me,” almost driving her away.

While it is Ruth listed in the genealogy, when speaking of joy we need to talk about Naomi. Because it was Naomi who went from happy to bitter, and then to joy, and it was Ruth who brought that about, through her steadfast devotion and perseverance.

She did what Naomi told her. And she sacrificed the possible life she could have had, to give Naomi a son. And even though it was Ruth and Boaz’s son, in the Scriptures it notes that the son was called the son of Naomi. So let’s go through some of what Ruth did.

She could have remarried in Moab. she was still young and beautiful. She hadn’t had any children. But she didn’t. She left her place of comfort and familiarity, for an unknown land with an unknown God.

She placed herself fully in that God’s hands and with God’s people, taking on their culture, their faith, and their practice. Once again, “Your God is my God, and your people, my people.” There’s a great song, by the way, “Whither Thou Goest.”

She followed the plan and guidance of her mother-in-law, even though it meant being very forward and possibly misinterpreted, and marrying someone older (because Boaz was likely Naomi’s age), and he was astute enough that even he questioned why she would marry him. We saw that in the passage today.

She’d had a couple of interactions with him already. He knew who she was. He had been very generous to her. But she went to the threshing floor, where the women weren’t supposed to go, and she uncovered his feet, and lay at his feet.

Now in the Scriptures, when you talk about uncovering somebody, and her asking him to put his cloak over her, sometimes in Scriptures that’s kind of a euphemism for a physical relationships. Whether you consider that or not – since Ruth was an upright woman – the fact of the matter was, she came forward.

She came and lay at his feet, and when he woke up and he was startled, by asking him to put her cloak over her, whether it dealt with physical intimacy at that moment or not, she was asking him for a relationship, a permanent relationship, a marriage.

He didn’t propose to her. Basically she proposed to him, in a day and age when that just that wasn’t heard of. How often, in your day, did the women propose to the men? I’m not seeing any hands. Well, that didn’t happen very often in Jesus’ day.

So she went forward, she asked Boaz, basically, to marry her, and he said, “OK.” He said, as a kinsman-redeemer, there was somebody who was closer in the family tree to Naomi, and so they had to ask him first. But he says if that guy doesn’t want the job (and we’ve already heard about how they would try to produce heirs even from brothers and other kinsman-redeemers), then he would take on the duties.

Most commentators point to Boaz as the Christlike figure here, because he is called, even as your Scripture noted, the kinsman-redeemer, and a lot of people refer to Christ as a kinsman-redeemer. He is the one who, because God loved us, he came and redeemed us from our sins so that we could be part of the family of God, children of God.

But let me suggest you something radical: that Ruth was the one like Christ in this story. She was the one who left home. She was the one who showed completely unselfish love. She was the one who became like those she dwelt among, all for the purpose of making a way for the one she loved to find joy again.

What did Christ do? In Philippians 2, Paul speaks of Jesus leaving his throne, or place in heaven, and “emptying himself” of all authority and glory, and taking on the form of a servant, who was obedient even to death on a cross.

Why? For you and for me. He did this so that we who were dead in sin and bitter in our hearts towards God might know God’s love for us, and through repentance and reconciliation come to know joy. And not just any worldly joy, but an eternal joy welling up within our souls no matter what the situation if we grab hold. That kind of joy.

So Ruth and Jesus, in many ways, acted in a similar manner. Earlier in the series, we saw how God used the unusual and unexpected to achieve the kind of peace and hope we all should have. He makes sure it is women who do this. This was intentional, so that they stand out in that early society, when mentioned in the family tree of the Savior.

I mentioned this before, I believe, as well, on the first Sunday of this series. Even though today, your “Jewishness” depends on the mother’s line (that is, they figure it matrilineally), when it comes to genealogies, because the name gets carried on by the men, it’s always the men who are listed. It’s one of those weirdnesses about the way we do things in this world.

But God made sure that the women were mentioned in the family tree of the Savior, so that they stood out and people would say, “Well, who are these people and what did they do?” And we see this pattern once again for joy, God using the unexpected and unusual, in ways that we would never think of, to bring about His purposes.

It’s an example for us to follow. And let me say that it does not mean that we need to be unhappy so that others can be joyful. Christ was full of peace and joy. One of my favorite pictures, that’s up in my office, is of Jesus laughing. We tend to have this image, frequently, of Christ as somber or solemn, and kind of an ivory tower ascetic, always serious about things, and the movies love to present him that way.

But you know what? He was a rough carpenter. That means that he built framing for houses. He might have done some other stuff with furniture and things on the side, but that’s what his father did, so that’s most likely what he did as well.

We know that he had a sense of humor. He called Peter Rocky. And Peter was just about as Philadelphian as Rocky Balboa, at times, impulsive, brash, unthinking. He called James and John the Sons of Thunder.

Why? Because they kept wanting to bring down God’s fire upon towns that dismissed them and, they thought, dissed Jesus, and he kept telling them no, but he gave him that nickname anyways. And it’s especially ironic when you consider that one of the Sons of Thunder, John, became known as the apostle of love, after Christ died and came back.

Christ knew joy. He knew peace. I bet Ruth was happy and joyful as well. Even though she forged a relationship with someone the world might have looked askance at, she must have felt satisfaction in bringing her beloved mother-in-law joy.

And even as Christ was exalted (because it also says that in Philippians too), so was she, by Boaz, who loved her, and by God in remembering her.

When we give ourselves unselfishly, sacrificially, and out of love, in serving others, we reflect the love of God, the life of Christ, and will gain riches in heaven some day. We bring others joy, and eternity in our own hearts.

The Christmas season is all about the coming of Christ, the first coming and the second coming. And at that first coming, we know that there were angels singing for joy. The shepherds had joy. The wise men had joy, when they saw him a little later. And when Christ comes again, we expect to have joy.

But we only can achieve that as we go about God’s business, doing the work of Christ in this world. Much as Ruth did for Naomi. God has a plan for each one of us. God has a purpose for each of one of us. But it is up to us, by the Holy Spirit, to see that plan and follow it.

And to be courageous. To do things, perhaps, that might not be typical of people of your age, your gender, your background, whatever it might be. But doing what God has called you to do.

And as we do that, this season, it’s a great time to start, when everybody’s thinking about that kind of thing anyways. It’s a great time to start and begin consciously, deliberately, showing the love of Christ, in ways that you may not have previously.

And we get in the habit, so that our whole life becomes a testimony and witness, to who God is and the wondrous things he has done. And when we do that, we give God praise and glory, and bring others to know the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. And there is no better gift we can give.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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