4th Sunday in Advent December 18, 2022
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
102, Worship Supplement 2000: #710 (TLH alt. 74), 76, 99
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Audio of the sermon is available at: https://anchor.fm/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Lord God, heavenly Father, we sinners look to Your mercy. We call upon You to forgive us because of the bitter sufferings and death of Your Son Jesus Christ. May Your Holy Spirit always cause us to find refuge in our Savior born in Bethlehem, for that Child born in David’s city lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.
Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. (NKJV)
Peace to you who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Is there any good news out there today? That’s a rather cliche question, isn’t it? We all know how depressing it can be to scroll through the news. But ignore for a moment the world and national headlines. Consider the news that isn’t published because it concerns you personally. You talk to your neighbor and find out his wife is dying of cancer. Your sister calls and tells you she was laid off from her job. You go to lunch with your friends, and it almost becomes a contest to see who has the most problems.
Is there any good news out there anywhere? It’s an age-old problem. No doubt that was what Naomi and Ruth were feeling. Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi were recent widows. That was an especially bad situation for a woman in those days. Most people didn’t have life insurance policies to cash in. There weren’t any welfare agencies. Well-paying jobs for women were nearly non-existent. In this destitute situation they had come to the little town of Bethlehem in Judah. There wasn’t much to the town. Bethlehem hardly seemed like a refuge for the broken-hearted.
Have you had those times when you sympathized with Ruth and Naomi? Can you sympathize now? Are you lonely? Are you worried about how to make ends meet? Are you unsure of what the future holds? Do you find yourself in some impossible problem that seems to have no solution? Have you recently lost someone close to you? Maybe you too have become bitter. Maybe you are also broken-hearted.
There was nothing very unique about the situation in which Ruth and Naomi found themselves. There also isn’t anything out of the ordinary about the pain and disappointment we experience on any given day. Broken hearts are a dime a dozen.
We live in a world where many find themselves destitute and all alone. The phone may ring at any moment with news that leaves us in tears. Day after day we are confronted with problems and stress, with one messy situation after another.
The great-great-grandson of Ruth, King Solomon, wrote in Ecclesiastes that life is like something twisted up so badly that it can’t be straightened out. Ever try to straighten a tent pole after it’s been bent? That’s life! That’s the reality that we face day in and day out.
But why is that so? Why is there so much bad news? The Bible tells us it’s because of sin. Sin is the great destroyer of happiness. Sin lives in us. It’s all around us. Its ugly tentacles reach into every aspect of human existence. It affects our relationships. It’s the root cause of all accidents, all disease, and every death. Whenever we groan, sigh, and cry, sin in some way is the underlying cause.
But let’s go back to ancient Bethlehem. Maybe there’s more to the little town than meets the eye. Go back to the day when Ruth and Naomi came trudging into town. Things didn’t look good. Ruth was forced to go out into the field to pick up the gleanings that the barley harvesters left behind. That’s all Ruth and Naomi had: the slim hope that if Ruth could gather a few baskets of grain maybe, at least, she and her mother-in-law wouldn’t starve.
But that’s when God stepped into the picture. Actually, He was never out of the picture. For reasons that perhaps weren’t clear until centuries later, God had permitted devastating heartbreak to come into the lives of Ruth and Naomi. God had His reasons for allowing these things to happen. But the Lord also promised that He will not test His children beyond their ability to endure. He also promises that He will always provide a way out. In the little town of Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi found their way out. They found the refuge they needed in the grace that God provided for them there.
Do you know the story? Ruth found herself gleaning in the field of a man named Boaz. He was a wealthy man and he was a kind man. He was a man looking forward with expectation to the arrival of the promised Seed of the Woman: the Savior who would come to crush the head of the Serpent and undo the damage that sin brought into the world. Boaz became interested in Ruth. Ruth became interested in Boaz. With a gentle push from Naomi, the romance blossomed. After a few legal matters were taken care of pertaining to who had the right to marry Ruth, Boaz and Ruth became husband and wife.
And they, along with Naomi, lived happily ever after. They really did! Oh, I’m sure they continued to have their share of problems. But they had each other. More importantly, they had the Lord God. Under His wings they found a shelter to keep them through the storms of life. They found a refuge with an open door leading to the ultimate way out of their problems. One day they would leave this sin-twisted world of heartbreak and enter into an everlasting refuge beyond the reach of all sorrow, tears, pain, sin, death, and the Devil.
What’s the news from Bethlehem tonight? It is this: There is refuge from the brokenhearted! We can find it right there in the little town if we take the time to look. Maybe you know the rest of the story. In the final few verses of the Book of Ruth we are told that Ruth and Boaz had a baby boy named Obed. We are told that Obed became the father of Jesse. That Jesse became the father of David. And if we continue to trace that line down through another 26 generations, we find ourselves back in Bethlehem. There, in maybe the same fields where Ruth had gleaned some many centuries before, the angel told a band of shepherds, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
Have you come here tonight with a broken heart? With a hurting soul? It happens to all of us sooner or later. Usually sooner than later.
Maybe your heartbreak right now is some terrible sin that is crushing you with guilt. If so, then go to Bethlehem. There you will find a Child born to die for that sin and for every other sin as well. In His bloody wounds you will find a peaceful refuge in which the fiery judgment of hell cannot harm you.
Or maybe at this moment you feel overwhelmed by the demands of a high-pressure job or the pressure of raising children in a godless society. Then follow the shepherds into the streets of the city of David. Kneel before the manger bed. Cast all your worries on Christ the Lord because He cares for you! Jesus can handle whatever you’ve got to give to Him. For this baby is not so helpless as He appears. This human child is very God of very God.
Or could it be that someone has hurt you? Has someone near and dear recently broken your heart? In Bethlehem you will find love that can never let you down. Love that paid the ultimate price. Love which knows no limits. Love that cannot fail to take you through this bitter life of sin into a new life of unending joy.
If you were to go to a section of 5th Avenue in New York City, you would see an interesting contrast. On one side of the street is the Rockefeller Center which has a famous statue of the Greek titan Atlas. You’re probably familiar with the motif. With bulging muscles, buckling knees, and sweat pouring down his face, Atlas holds the earth on his back. He strains with all his might so he doesn’t collapse under the weight of the globe. But on the other side of the street sits St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Inside you can find a statue of the boy Jesus holding the earth in His hands with no more effort than a toddler holding a tennis ball.
Straining and struggling to make things right in your life is no way to live. Your heart can only break under the pressure. In Bethlehem you will find One waiting and willing to take all of your sins and sorrows, all of your fears and tears, all of your strain and pain into His own crucified hands. Truly He “is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
So what are we waiting for? Let us go with haste and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. That’s the news from Bethlehem tonight. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.