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The Promise Continued

4th Sunday in Advent – December 24, 2017

Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down. 2 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 3 Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. 

4 “I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”

“I will redeem it,” he said. 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” 6 At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” 7 (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.) 8 So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.

9 Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”

13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:1-10,13,16-17)

God’s first gospel promise seemed tenuous at best. After Adam and Eve fell into sin, the Lord made this promise to that first couple, and the devil: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Salvation would come from Eve’s offspring. She knew it. Adam knew it. And so did the devil.

Enmity, hostility continued between the devil and Eve’s children. In every generation the battle raged on. Satan grabbed hold of Cain, the Lord held on to Abel. Soon, Satan brought the entire world down into wickedness and violence. The only believers left in the world after a few generations were in Noah’s immediate family.

So the Lord sent the flood to wipe out the wicked, unbelieving world. The line of the Savior, that first gospel promise, hung on by a thread. It wouldn’t be the last time everything hung in the balance.

The Lord promised that the Savior of the world would come through Abraham. But there was a problem. Abraham was 100 years old and his wife, Sarah, was 90. She was also unable to have children. Once again it looked as though the line of the Savior would end ignominiously. Then the Lord enabled Sarah to give birth to a son. They named him Isaac.

When the Lord commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son, the devil must have been delighted. The promise would end and the devil would win. But as Abraham held out the knife, the Lord himself stopped the sacrifice, offering up a ram in place of Abraham’s son. The line continued…barely.

Through slavery in Egypt and the scare of starvation and dehydration in the wilderness, through enemy armies and famines the Messianic line continued. At times, the Lord narrowed the promise. First the Savior would come through Jacob, then Judah, then from one blessed family within the clan of Judah.

Then came the dark days, when it looked as though no one would survive. A famine hit the land of Judah, scattering families to enemy countries. One of those families had been Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons. Their family line was in peril, too. First the father, Elimelech died, then so did his two sons. One of the women they married left for home in Moab.

All that was left were Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. No hope for a family. No continuation of the family line. And perhaps no real hope for survival in those dark days of the Judges.

But back in Bethlehem, the Lord showed mercy – as he had done for so many generations. A man named Boaz looked after Ruth. He gave her grain and water and protection. Then, during the night, when Ruth asked him to be her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz promised to do that, too.

But there was a problem. According to the Jewish law, there was a closer relative to Ruth’s family that would have first say in taking care of her and marrying her. Boaz knew that all too well. But there was hope. Boaz told Ruth, “If he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it.”

As soon as he could, Boaz met with the man who had the first right to become Ruth’s “kinsman-redeemer” and marry her. The other man refused because he didn’t want to put his land and money in jeopardy. So Boaz said with joy, “I have…acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife.”

And so it came to pass that Boaz married Ruth. A family of Judah could continue. And while no one knew it at the time, this marriage would be one of the most important in the history of mankind. The book of Ruth tells us why: “Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.” You don’t have to be a professional genealogist to realize what this means. Ruth was the the great-grandmother of King David. More importantly, Ruth is in the line of the Savior.

That line had held on by a thread. And God wanted it that way. Those moments when all seems lost don’t just test our faith – it feels like we run the risk of giving it up altogether. Why does the Lord let things spiral out of control so badly? Why does he delight in making things so difficult? Why let the line of the Savior face obliteration generation after generation?

The question can be asked today, too. Why let things get so bad for the Christian Church in this world? The devil sure looks like the winner these days. Terror and violence are worse now than ever. Faithful Christianity seems on the bring of collapse. Christians are killed. Churches around the world torn down. Many people who call themselves believers don’t care about God’s Word anymore. And in our really dark moments we might even think at this time of year: Have a merry Christmas: because it is probably our last.

It has been this bad before. There was once a governor of Syria. He had just come to power when everyone was moving around. The Romans were counting people, and everyone knew what that meant. Tax time. People had to go to the places where they grew up. Inns filled up. Roads were full of people.

One poor couple was expecting, and they arrived in town too late. They had to sleep in the stables with the animals. And it was there, in those out of the way, humble confines, where that very first promise, made thousands of years earlier, was fulfilled. A woman named Mary, a descendant of a woman named Ruth, gave birth to a baby boy in the same town where Ruth gave birth to her son.

That thread of a promise, that constantly threatened line of the Savior, had finally ended. That baby boy would grow up to be the Savior of the world, the Light of the world, our Redeemer who would win that final victory over the devil on the cross. That very first promise that so many generations waited for would finally be fulfilled: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

The world with all of its threats and attacks and violence stands defeated. And your Savior will protect you from your enemies as he walked with all of those believers of past generations. And he points you ahead to the day when he will return to bring you home. Be encouraged by a fellow believer who also awaited Jesus’ coming again:

“Ponder again What glory then The Lord will give you for your earthly sadness.

The angel host Can never boast Of greater glory, greater bliss or gladness.” Amen.