“So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.”
Ruth 1 is one of the most tragic chapters imaginable. It ends with the following words: “So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest” (Ruth 1:22).
An Israelite named Naomi had left Bethlehem with her husband because of a famine there, and the couple had taken their sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to Moab. If you look at the history of the Moabites in the Old Testament up to this point, it’s clear that Moab was a despised place.
While in Moab, Naomi’s husband and her two sons died, and she is left alone with the wives of her two sons. These two Moabite daughters-in-law are named Orpah and Ruth, and Naomi urges them to say in Moab while she goes back to Bethlehem with the hope that maybe God will provide for her. Orpah stays, but Ruth “clung to her” (Ruth 1:14).
When Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem, everyone takes notice. “It’s Naomi. You’re back.” But Naomi tells them not to call her Naomi but to call her Mara (a Hebrew word that means bitter), “for,” she says, “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (20).
Naomi feels empty and barren. In a sense, she’s hopeless, and this is what I love about today’s verse. It says that Naomi and Ruth came to Bethlehem “at the beginning of barley harvest” (22). It’s not a time of famine anymore in Bethlehem. This is a time of harvest, and not just any harvest, but a harvest that will lead to unimaginable blessing for Ruth and Naomi, and, as we’ll eventually see at the end of this story, for generations to come, ultimately culminating in Jesus.
You, or someone you know, may be walking through dark, difficult times. You may feel hopeless or tempted to despair. Hear this good news: Our God has a track record of taking the darkest days and shining light in the brightest ways. He takes the most hopeless situations and totally transforms them by His grace into the most hopeful situations.
Anticipation. Repentance. Hope. Joy. These words characterize the Advent season, a season in which Christians focus their attention on Christ’s advent, or “coming.” On the one hand, we reflect back on Christ’s first coming and His fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises of a Messiah who would deliver His people by laying down His life. At the same time, we look forward to Christ’s second coming, when He will put an end to sin and death and bring God’s redemptive purposes to their glorious consummation.
The goal of this Advent guide is to help individuals and families reflect on and respond to these important truths. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve, December 24. This guide provides twenty-five days of readings so that you can begin on December 1 and finish on Christmas Day.
In addition to each day’s Scripture reading and devotional reflection, you’ll find a suggestion for how you and your family might pray in light of the truths that you’ve read. You’ll also notice a variety of activities scattered throughout the guide that are aimed at helping families respond to these truths in ways that are interactive and engaging for children. Feel free to adapt, supplement, or skip these activities depending on the particular needs of your family.