A long time ago in Bethlehem…

A long time ago in Bethlehem, despair and hope were travelling side by side and this was way before the sleepy town would be the birth place of the Hope of the World.
Ruth and Naomi: Ruth full of hope, Naomi full of despair.
Two widows arrive with their broken-down lives and God’s resurrection power at work in them.
Will Bethlehem feel the impact of their presence? No forewarning that the town of Bethlehem is about to be jolted out of her “deep and dreamless sleep”!
This is a turning point in Israel’s history and it will not be the last time Bethlehem will be host to the arrival of visitors that will change the course of history and not just for Israel’s history but for the history of the entire world.
The Narrator of the book of Ruth in the Bible only gives the slightest of hint of what is in store in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning on their arrival (Ruth1:22).
This foreshadowing of better days to come is enough as later in the book of Ruth we learn of a man who becomes her ‘Kinsman Redeemer’.
It was no accident, ‘nothing just happens’, as we are presented with another little hint that by wandering into a particular barley field the grieving, penniless, socially isolated Ruth has discovered sanctuary.
I am a firm believer that God plans and orchestrates everything in minute detail. Ruth’s momentous entrance into the field of Boaz was “a God-thing” – an unexpected, miraculous turning point in the lives of three individuals.
Here we are reading about an ordinary slice of life – real people in real relationships, facing real trouble, making difficult choices and costly sacrifices. There’s a lot more going on than we can see, for God is working behind the scenes to keep things moving in the direction of his ultimate goal for us as individuals and also for this world.
How can we hope to grasp anything of God’s heart for this broken planet if we never share in its suffering and we never weep because its brokenness touches us and breaks our hearts? In the midst of Naomi’s struggle she is no different to us, she feels the pain of loss and grief and the misery of believing God has turned his back on her, but she will learn things about God in this dark place she would never have noticed in the light.
I said on Sunday when I spoke on ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’; “I have found that suffering is a better teacher than all my joyful moments”. Now don’t get me wrong I’d much prefer the joyful moments and what has love got to do with suffering anyway? But only God can take all things and make them work together for the good of you and I that work for the Lord and who are called according to His purposes.
God says “I am going to make it good for you but I’m still going to accomplish my purpose”.
I know it’s difficult right now but God is working on something. There are moments in our lives that are turning points.
Back to Bethlehem a few hundred years later as she is once more about to be jolted out of her “deep and dreamless sleep”! Shepherds came looking for a baby born in a stable but really the baby Jesus came looking for them…as the world was about to be turned upside down by His arrival.
The arrival of this baby in Bethlehem was the Redeemer of the entire world! Verse three of the carol below sings about how silently He enters Bethlehem yet God proclaims His birth to the Bethlehem shepherds who are about to go on to proclaim the birth as far and wide as they can too! They are caught up in a purpose that is bigger than themselves and so are we.
Our lives are not perfect, we have empty places in our hearts, but we are grounded in the truth that He loves us and I don’t know about you but that sure keeps me going at Christmas and will for another year as I enter into 2019. He is changing us and He wants us to change our world.
What a wondrous gift was given to humanity on that night. Emmanuel – God with us and… He abides with us still!

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may his His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

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