Intro: To many people, Christmas seems like a cruel joke. Depression, grief,
loss. "Peace on earth; joy to world?" Seems like God is far away. Where is God?
Answering that question by turning to little OT book, Ruth! Events of Ruth occurred
in Bethlehem, but 1100 years before Jesus was born. I think we'll find it appropriate
Elimelech's Decision! (Read Ruth 1:1-5.) Time of Judges. (Moses led Israelites out of
Egypt, Joshua led them into Promised Land. Then, occasional godly leaders called
"judges," but most of the time, Israelites did their own thing. Problem? Needed
constant godly leadership; needed a king!) Irony! Bethlehem; "House of Bread," yet
famine! God's people unable to survive in God's land! Elimelech, wife, sons move
to Moab! (Sometime enemies of Israel; Moabites descended form Abraham's nephew,
Lot.) Irony, pt. 2! Elimelech; "God is king." Yet Elimelech dies, leaving Naomi
and two sons. Naomi's two sons marry, but sons die before wives have children! Is
Naomi's family suffering punishment for sin? Author doesn't say. Where is God? Ten
years of silence!
Orpah's Decision! (Read Ruth 1:6-15.) Naomi hears God has provided food in Israel.
Decides to move back. But what about her daughters in law? Naomi begs Orpah and
Ruth to stay in Moab. Believes it is the best course for their lives. For a woman
to survive in the ANE, she needs to be connected to a man; a father, husband or
son. Naomi has nothing to offer Orpah and Ruth. No practical reason why they should
stay. Orpah departs, author doesn't fault her! We call after Orpah: "Orpah, where
is God?" Orpah: "My god by default is Chemosh, the Moabite God, my family's god,
my country's god!"
Ruth's Decision! (Read Ruth 1:16-18.) Ruth decides to stay with Naomi, no matter
what! Goes against logic, security; future for two widows looks bleak! Goes against
familiarity; leaving country behind! Ruth's decision is unparalleled in the entire
OT; faith surpasses even Abraham's! As Ruth and Naomi start off for Israel, we ask:
"Ruth, where is God?" But Ruth changes our question. Rather, "Who is God?" Ruth
tells us, "My God is Naomi's God!" B/c Naomi is faithful to Yahweh, Ruth will be!
Naomi's Declaration! (Read Ruth 1:19-22.) Naomi and Ruth enter Bethlehem, causing no
small stir. Naomi rejects her name, "pleasant," feels it's more appropriate to be
named Mara, "bitter." Naomi is lodging a public, formal complaint against God! When
we ask her, "Naomi, where is God?" she answers, "I'll tell you where God is! He's
right here and He's attacking me! The Almighty has ruined my life!"
Application : Repeated Hebrew word in this chapter, reflects theme: Shuv!
("Return!") Naomi and Ruth return home to Bethlehem. We, and they, don't know what
will happen next. Like your life, like mine. Before we ever discover how life is
going to turn out, we face a question: Where is God? Answer: He is here, and
He is calling us to a decision!
Maybe you find yourself in Orpah's sandals? The risk of following God seems
crazy, and the lure of the familiar is strong. You want to go back to Moab, but
remember, there's more to life than comfort, security, what's familiar. God is here,
and he's calling us to a decision! Won't you reconsider; won't you return
Maybe you find yourself in Naomi's sandals? You've grown up among God's people,
but life has been disappointing. Even though you are still aware that God is here,
maybe you're angry at Him. You are faced with a decision: Will you return to God?
Will you continue to trust God, even when you don't understand what He is up to?
Maybe you find yourself in Ruth's sandals? Maybe you're not sure what committing
yourself to God looks like, but you are at least attracted to His people. You're
faced with a decision: Will you return to God? Will you join God's people, even
when we, like Naomi, are angry, disillusioned w/God? Will you commit yourself to
God's people, even when we don't act all that saintly, b/c you know in your heart
that somehow, God is here?
Jesus' name, Emmanuel, means "God with us." Closing hymn has been a prayer of God's
people throughout the centuries. Make it your prayer as we sing!