Bishop William Willimon: To Bethlehem

It's a charming story, the story of Ruth and Naomi.  Poor Ruth.  She had married one of Naomi's sons.  But he soon died, before they had any children.  So, in accordance with the custom, she married Naomi's other son.  He also died, leaving her without children.  Ruth was utterly without hope.  No husband, no children to care for her in her old age.  A woman was husbandless and childless, was called "barren."  Now alone, completely vulnerable, her ex-mother-in-law Naomi, says to her, "I have no more sons to offer you.  You had better go back and live with your own people." 

You see, Ruth had come down to Judea from Moab.  She was a Moabite-a person of another race, another religion.  Naomi advises Ruth to go on back to her own people.  Maybe she will receive the care and protection she needs there. 

But then Ruth says something to Naomi, maybe the only thing you have ever heard of out of the Book of Ruth, Ruth says to Naomi, the younger woman speaking to the other, "Entreat me not to leave you.  Where you go, I will go.  Your people shall be my people." 

Rather amazing.  Someone of another race, another religion and nationality, another generation to say, "I will stick with you, I will be with you, where you go, I will go.  Your people will be my people."

Thus the Book of Ruth is also a story of tough women, two resilient people who, after life has dealt them a couple of bad breaks, cling together, and with clinch fisted determination, attempt to make it in the world. 

Eventually Ruth meets Boaz, and marries Boaz, and they make a life together, at a place likeBethlehem. 

And that's why I'm telling you this story at Christmas. Ruth, at Bethlehem, was the great, great, great-grandmother of Jesus. 

The story of Ruth and Naomi is inspiring, and charming.  It is an everyday story.  It is a story without any miracles, or visions.  There is not much vision of God in this story.  It is so mundane and everyday and ordinary.  And yet that is part of its glory.  In a mundane, ordinary, everyday place, named Bethlehem, two ordinary women become part of the purposes of God.  Their stories are woven in to the story of what God wants to do for the whole world. 

This is often the Bible's way with the divine.  The extraordinary arises within the ordinary.  The heavenly, breaks out amid the earthly.  What we tend to call earthly and ordinary, the Bible wants to depict as the realm of God's amazing work among us.  If you want to meet God, then the Bible implies that you don't have to go off on some mountaintop.  You just have to be in a place likeBethlehem, trying to make your way in the world, attempting to make ends meet, getting along as best you can with you got.

Do you want to get close to God?  Then the story of Ruth, as well as the story of the babe atBethlehem, suggests that we will meet God in our times of grief, when people leave us in untimely ways, people on whom we are dependent.  Now that God has come into the world, through a couple like Mary and Joseph, in a place like Bethlehem, now everywhere is potentially a place of God.

What a God we've got.  Or, more to the point of incarnation, what a God has got us.  Now, after what happened in Bethlehem, with Ruth and Naomi, and with Mary and Joseph, if we are going to meet God, we need not climb up to the top of some mountain, or rummage about in our psyche, we can meet God right here.  Or better, God meets us here.  In mundane ways, God meets us, ordinary folk who we are, people like Ruth and Naomi.  Good News: the word has been made flesh and dwells among us.  Made flesh.  Our flesh.

William Willimon

[Taken with permission from the Bishop's blogat North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. Originally posted 12/20/2010]