Monday, December 5, 2022

With Healing in His Wings

Webster’s dictionary defines “anticipate” as “expected or looking-forward to.” There is a positive connotation. But anticipation also conjures images of prediction, knowing ahead of time, and supposing.

This second set of meanings reminds me of Naomi, the matriarch we meet in the book of Ruth. My church is going through this short but powerful book during Advent. I have always loved the way Ruth is woven together with deep messianic foreshadowing. It is a perfect addition to our Advent journey.

Back to this week’s theme: When I think of Naomi’s desire to be called Mara (bitter), I don’t see her response as the antithesis of anticipation. I don’t see her doubting or questioning. She is acting too much the realist for that. She seems to have anticipated that this was just how things were going to be for her after the death of her husband and sons. Her return to Bethlehem was based on logic. Bread had returned to Bethlehem; the famine is over. She had nothing to keep her in Moab.

Naomi was not looking forward to anything, but she was expecting bitterness to wrap around her like a shroud. Maybe, she thinks, she could at least finish her days in her ancestral home. Yet, in her extreme practicality, she doesn’t want to drag anyone, especially her daughters-in-law down with her.

God, in His divine happenstance, however, places Ruth as a faithful companion to Naomi and unfolds a story full of grace and redemption. My pastor explores this idea, saying, “Naomi calls herself empty, but knowing what we know about Ruth, she (Naomi) is actually more full than ever before.”

The book of Ruth contains the word “return” twelve times. It is a major theme. And it is the same Hebrew word as “repent.” Whether through the consequences of life’s circumstances or sin, Naomi has great need to return. Little does she know, her practical homecoming to the “House of Bread” will usher in a lineage culminating in the ultimate “Bread of Life,” Jesus.

As the story unfolds, we meet another important character: Boaz. He is a worthy and righteous man, and he just so happens to be a relative of Naomi. In his kindness, he shows great favor to Ruth when she randomly chooses his field in which to harvest barley behind the reapers.

Here we see another perspective on the word “anticipate.” Any anticipation of Ruth’s part is so saturated by faith that she almost seems na├»ve. Maybe it’s that this kind of deep trust in God’s way forward is so new to her, or more likely, the path is so steeped in God’s leading that she is earnestly expecting anything.

(It sort of reminds me of the scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Harry takes the felix felicis potion and blissfully ambles towards the exact circumstances he needs.)

When Ruth asks Boaz why he has shown her such favor, he responds,
“I have been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:11-12).
Naomi was returning. But Ruth was taking refuge. Rather than running from something (after all the famine was over), she was pressing towards something. Ruth was expecting, through faith, a refuge in the land of a God she did not yet know. And the closest thing to that God was her mother-in-law, who herself carried such a shallow faith. Ruth doesn’t know what to expect, but she finds herself under a shadow of grace. My pastor draws out the analogy: “Ruth doesn’t understand why it is so dark under the wing, but she somehow knows this is exactly where she is supposed to be.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Ruth and Naomi had experienced a crash course in suffering. It is a woe Scripture urges us to expect; to anticipate. But that was not the end of their story, and it is not the end of ours. 

The third verse of Hark, the Herald Angels Sing reads:

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His Wings.
Now He lays His Glory by,
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

This Advent, may we be a people who anticipate the redemption found only under His healing wings.

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