Enjoy the holidays like never before
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Christmas is less than a month away.
I propose that we enjoy this holiday season like none we’ve ever had.
No one needs to tell you that it has been a tough year. COVID intruded, politics turned ugly, and many of our cities were destroyed when state and local governments abrogated their prime responsibility. We were told to go home and stay there. Then when they let us out, they told us to wear masks. Many are concerned that the likely incoming administration will shut us all back up at home again.
And just in time, here are the holidays.
May I suggest that we set all of our local and national foolishness aside for the season and just let our minds rest, our spirits relax, and our souls restore?
There is a Bible story about Christmas that comes from an unexpected place. And it helps us understand the hope this season is meant to bring.
The book of Judges begins just after the death of the heroic Joshua and picks up with the nation of Israel continuing to grow and inhabit the promised land. Judges end several hundred years later with the once-beautiful nation rotting from the inside. The book concludes with one of the ugliest stories in the Bible.
Then you turn the page and begin the book of Ruth. It is at though someone opened a window to allow cool, fresh, air to stream into a stale, moldy room. It is, as the Holman Bible introduction puts it, “a cameo story of love, devotion, and redemption set in the black context of the days of the judges.”
And it is perfect for this time of the year. Let’s think about that for a moment.
The book begins with Naomi, her husband, and her two sons going to the country of Moab to escape a local drought. One of her sons marries Ruth, a local girl. While she’s there, Naomi’s husband and both sons die. The drought ends, and she decides to return home, leaving her two daughters-in-law behind. But Ruth won’t be left. When Naomi tries to send Ruth back home to Moab, Ruth recites those classic lines, “whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God….”
Ruth and Naomi go back to Naomi’s hometown where they are warmly welcomed. Ruth goes out to pick corn, catches the eye of the land owner, and they get married. There is more to the story than that, but that’s the gist.
It is easy to miss it, but Ruth is an important part of the Christmas story. How, you wisely ask, could a book written around 500 years before the birth of Christ be part of the Christmas story? Ruth was from the nation founded by Lot’s son, Moab. The Moabites had gone away from worshiping the true God and had begun following the false god, Chemosh. Ruth, in staying with her mother-in-law, converted from following a false god to following the true God. As the story develops, stories about how she cares for her mother-in-law and how she follows the true God made their way to a local landowner, who, as it happened, was a relative of Ruth’s deceased husband. Through twists and turns (it really is a great story), the businessman marries Ruth. They have a child.
Where did Ruth follow Naomi to, and where did she meet her husband and have this child? It all happened in the city of Bethlehem in Judah. About 500 years later Christ the Messiah was born in that town, and Ruth was His grandmother, many generations removed. This beautiful story leads directly to the Christmas story.
One of the main themes of the book of Ruth is that light can emerge from great darkness. Ruth could not have expected this family to move to Moab, that she would marry one of its sons, and that her relationship would lead directly to the birth of Christ. But Someone had a bigger story in mind.
Didn’t Dr. Seuss work along a similar theme when he wrote How the Grinch Stole Christmas? That book taught us that no matter how hard evil tries, the good in the holiday season will shine through. I take great comfort in that.
Thanksgiving speaks to the founding of our country. Christmas speaks to the potential for the salvation of our souls. I can’t imagine two better themes to celebrate to help us take our minds off the rest of this year.
The City of Lanett has already strung Christmas lights, and they look terrific. People have begun putting up Christmas trees early. Let’s put up our Christmas trees, hang colorful lights, play happy music, read the original Christmas story, and generally begin the celebration.
In fact, maybe 2021 will be a better year if we spend the holiday season being thankful for our founding and being reminded of the Christian principles that lead to that founding. Maybe we can begin to rebuild because we have much rebuilding to do. That is my hope for the holiday.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.