The Redeemer Has Come
There’s something about the Christmas season that often makes us feel more of what we’re already feeling. If our hearts are filled with joy, Christmas can amplify that joy. If it’s loneliness, bitterness or emptiness, these feelings often intensify during the season too. I'm coming into this season feeling tired and weary, and wondering how I'm going to make Christmas magic happen for my three young children and holiday-loving husband. Christmas time brings an expectation to feel the warm glow of happiness and peace, but reality can fall far short.
This intensity of emotions brings to mind the book of Ruth. Upon reading just the first five verses (Ruth 1:1-5), we find Naomi, a woman who has lost everything. She is broken and devastated because of the death of her husband and her sons (Ruth 1:11-13). She is left with two daughters-in-law but unable to provide for herself, much less them. She’s been a refugee in Moab, but decides to return to Bethlehem in hopes she might at least be able to scrounge for food there (Ruth 1:6-7).
When she arrives home, she laments over bitter life to her friends (Ruth 1:20). Yet in a few short chapters, we see a dramatic turn of fortune. These same women who were weeping with Naomi are proclaiming her blessedness, her hope and her future (Ruth 4:14-15). What prompted such a change? It was the birth of a son (Ruth 4:13-17).
You see, what Naomi needed was a redeemer – someone to give her hope and a future. She found the beginning of that hope when her daughter-in-law, Ruth, left her home to stick by Naomi and care for her needs. But what Naomi really needed was a male heir. And what does God provide? A dashingly faithful husband for Ruth. A bouncing baby boy soon followed.
The baby's name was Obed and he changed everything for Naomi. Upon his birth, the women joyfully announced that Obed would restore her life and care for her in her old age (Ruth 4:14-15). Where Naomi was once bitter, she was now full of joy. Where she was once empty, she was now full. Where she was once hopeless, she now had a bright future.
The book of Ruth paints this beautiful picture of a kinsman redeemer to point us to an even better redeemer. He is what we celebrate this time of year, at advent. All of us are not so unlike Naomi. We are broken, bitter and empty. The source of our hopelessness is sin and death. Sure, we have times of great joy, and we manage to fill our lives with all kinds of distractions. But it doesn’t take much pain or loss to remind us that despair is lurking around every corner. Like Naomi, we face an empty future.
A Better Redeemer
But there was an event so many years ago that changed our dire prospects. It was the birth of a son. This time the son was Jesus. All of the Old Testament points to him, as it awaited the Redeemer that would solve the problem of sin and death in the world (Gen 3:15). His birth ushered in hope. His death and resurrection brought about a dramatic reversal of fortune for all who would believe. Those who once were separated from God without any possibility of gaining his favor are now brought into his family, if they will place their hope and trust in Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate Redeemer.
And so how is it that at this time of year, advent season, we can easily feel empty or bitter? For some it is because of what life has delivered – pain, heartache, loss. For some it is what life has not delivered – hopes and dreams unmet. For others, it is the overwhelming demands of the season – nonstop events, gifts to be purchased and wrapped, relationships to be navigated. Whatever it is that fights for your time or emotions, it serves as a distraction from the source of Christmas hope.
Worshiping The Redeemer
So what can we do? As we celebrate Christmas, we can intentionally orient ourselves to worship our Redeemer. We can take the activities, traditions and demands and infuse them with worship. For instance, start a tradition of advent reading. Listen to Christmas carols or hymns that are Christ-centered while you trim your tree or decorate cookies. Pray for each recipient as your shop for and wrap Christmas presents. Or consider other ways of worship that fit into your life and will draw your heart and mind to Jesus. If we find ourselves feeling empty or bitter, it is because our focus is on things other than our Redeemer.
For me, this means prioritizing the things that matter most. It's not up to me to make Christmas magic happen in my household, but I have the joy of pointing my family to what does fill our hearts with that sense of wonder – Jesus Christ!
We can be full of joy this Christmas. Not because of the magic of the season or because of the warmth of family or the joy of giving. But because we are celebrating the birth of our Redeemer! Even in the midst of loneliness, emptiness and bitterness His birth gives us the true hope that we so desperately need.