Our pilgrimage with Old Testament guides brings us today into the city of Bethlehem, but not for the birth of Jesus. Instead, we are preparing for the birth of the grandfather of David.
We find this account in the Book of Ruth, which tells the story of how a man of Bethlehem, Elimelech, with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, leave Bethlehem because of a famine. They immigrate seven to 10 days’ walk east-southeast, around the Dead Sea, into the land of the Moabites, which is in modern day Jordan.
After time, Elimelech passes away but the boys grow up, marry Moabite wives, and … also die. So Naomi is left with her two daughters-in-law: three widows in a land and time when being a widow is no easy feat. When Naomi hears that Bethlehem’s famine has passed, she decides she should return to her homeland, but she doesn’t want to ask her daughters-in-law to make the sacrifice of leaving theirs. She urges them to go back to their mothers, and one does, but the other, Ruth, refuses with tears.
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people
and your God my God.
Naomi agrees and now she begins our own Advent pilgrimage: She heads back toward Bethlehem with her young daughter-in-law accompanying her.
In these two women, we see represented different generations, creeds, and cultures, united thanks to their devotion and loyalty. The story (which is short enough to read easily in one sitting) is a tale of hope and beauty that takes place in the times of the chaos and conflict of Judges — just as our Christmas this year takes place in the midst of so many conflicts around the world, and in the very region we’re talking about.
As we see Ruth following her mother-in-law to Bethlehem, it’s hard not to think of being close to our Mother Mary and allowing her to lead us.
When Ruth goes to gather the grain left by the barley harvesters in the fields of Elimelech’s kinsman, Boaz, we read that at mealtime, Boaz brings the young woman to his tent, and says to her, “Come here and eat some of this bread and dip your morsel in the sour wine.”
Here in Bethlehem — the name means House of Bread — we see our pilgrim guide being fed bread and wine from the abundance of the fields. In fact, there is such bounty that Ruth is able to glean a whole bushel of barley from what’s leftover of the harvest. (Gleaning is gathering up what is left behind when the harvesters have gone through.) There’s an abundance, even for this woman from a foreign land.
The story continues with Boaz taking Ruth as his wife, and they are given a son, Obed, who will be the grandfather of David. (Remember at Christmas, St. Joseph is going to Bethlehem for the census because it’s the City of David).
The women of Bethlehem then rejoice with Naomi, telling her that this child “shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age.”
Inspired by the story of Ruth and Naomi, can we stay close to Mary in these last two weeks of Advent? Can we allow her to bring us toward our true home, where our kinsmen share with us more than we could even desire? Where there is abundance of rest and rejoicing? Where the bitterness of our losses and failings is turned to sweetness (cf verse 20)? Where we are fed bountifully, no matter where we come from or how little we bring to the table? Where we are restored to life?
[The Aleteia community is joining the journey of an Old Testament pilgrim each day this Advent, as they lead us to the Christ Child in this holy season. Find the daily reflections here.]