This Advent season, this season of waiting and of expectation, may feel no different than any other Advent season on which we have journeyed. But I wonder, although this Advent may feel familiar, is there a new perspective, maybe a new encounter, to which God is asking us to be awakened? In our passage today, we find ourselves on a road with three grieving women, but there is one who is seemingly fearless, who is more acquainted with the road we are on than any of the rest of us. “Naomi, oh Naomi” are the words that pass over my heart in anguish as we hear her say to her daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home.” I want to lean over and whisper in Naomi’s ear: “Really, Naomi? You really want to travel this journey alone?!” But as we read on, although Naomi is persistent in sending her two foreign daughters-in-law back home, Ruth clings to her.
Unfortunately, we don’t get all of the details between verses 6 and 7 to help us understand why these three women decide to go back to Bethlehem, other than the Lord’s provision. We don’t get to hear the conversations that pass between the three grieving women. We don’t get to see the thoughts that run through their minds that perhaps keep them up at night, and we don’t get to feel the fear that may be overwhelming their entire beings. But what we do know is that with her two daughters-in-law, Naomi “sets out on the road that will take them back.”
This return to Bethlehem had to create an internal conflict for Naomi. She, probably not by choice, packed up her home, grabbed the hands of her two sons, and walked alongside of her husband to Moab, leaving Bethlehem in a time of desperate need for the people there. How could this woman expect her “home”, the place that was once filled with friends, neighbors, and even those she deemed as family, to welcome her back with loving, grace-filled arms in her most desperate time of need when she first abandoned them in theirs? Naomi had been gone for ten years and really had nothing to show for it—nothing worthy in the eyes of that culture, anyway.
But no matter the tension, no matter the fear, no matter the consequences that Naomi believed would happen, Naomi returned to Bethlehem. I can’t help but wonder if all that Naomi was thinking was, “It has to be better than this.” It was because of this first step, because of the faithful action of Ruth, that Naomi experienced the welcoming, grace-filled embrace of the people of Bethlehem, saw the redemption in her family through this Moabite daughter, and experienced the blessing of the God she had, at the beginning of her journey, deeply believed was against her in all odds of life, through the women around her as she held her baby grandson.
Our Advent journey, this road we continue to travel on, whether new or familiar, is also leading us back to Bethlehem. And—spoiler alert—just like Naomi, there is someone waiting for us with welcoming, grace-filled arms, one who desires to redeem our lives, our friendships, and our families, and to remind us of his goodness and faithfulness through the movement of our lives—the past, present, and the future. We call him Lord, Savior. And as we step in front of the manger, we will get a taste of the faithful God that we, like Naomi, will never be able to un-know. Journey on, my friends. It may be filled with pot-holes, hills, and valleys—you may not feel like you have someone like Ruth to journey with you, but stay awake. God is with you.