This Holy Ground

She bent down to pick up a stalk of grain the reapers had left behind, her fingers brushing the cool ground. She tucked the stalk into the front of her cloak she used to collect the pieces, then pressed her free hand to her tired back, stretching. Wanting the day to end, but needing to gather more grain to take home to her mother-in-law.

Her weary, sad eyes scanned the fields to see how much ground she still had to cover.

She never would’ve imagined ending up here: A widow, far from home, living with a grieving mother-in-law who had also lost her own husband.

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Though this was her mother-in-law Naomi’s hometown, it was unfamiliar to Ruth. She didn’t know the streets or the people…or the God so many of them worshipped.

Ruth was a Moabite, and from the whispers she’d heard, the God of the Israelites had declared none of His people were to live in Moab or intermarry with Moabites. They called her a pagan. Her family worshipped carved gods, rather than the invisible God her mother-in-law believed in.

But then a famine hit Ruth’s husband’s homeland, and they relocated. There he met Ruth and took her as his wife. He, his brother, and his father never made it out of Moab.

The tragedies were not far behind her, but Ruth knew she needed to begin a new life here in Bethlehem with Naomi. She’d promised to stay with her, learn her customs, get to know her family, and believe in her God.

Only, on days like today, when the sun beat hot and her back ached from the work, she wondered if this new God she chose to follow would really care for her.

As she bent again, she heard footsteps. Sandals appeared in front of her, and she slowly looked up, shielding the sun from her eyes with her hand.

“I’m sorry,” she said, quickly standing and shoving the grain into her cloak. “I was just about to leave.”

“No, don’t. Stay here. Stay close to the other women. Get some of our water when you need a drink. No one will bother you. And if you need anything, let me know. I’m Boaz.” The man smiled at her.

Ruth tentatively smiled back, then dipped her head. “Thank you, sir. You’re very kind.”

She didn’t know it in that moment, but she had just met Naomi’s relative, a man who would be the one who would redeem her tragedies by marrying her, providing a home, giving her children, and continuing Naomi’s family line. Her kinsman redeemer.

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The barley harvest and the kind landowner’s generation was long gone. The fields were no longer used for crops, but for sheep. In place of reapers, shepherds worked on the land. Poor and rugged and not easily accepted into society.

They’d worked long hours already that day and were settling into the night watch. Tired and aching from another day of work to earn just enough to survive, but fully aware of the dangers the darkness brought for their flocks.

The sun set, the air cooled, and everything went still and quiet.

Until light. Brilliant, blazing light. And sounds. Shouts. A declaration of “Do not be afraid!”

How could they not be afraid? Thousands and thousands of glowing figures filled the sky, exclaiming, “Gloria in excelsis Deo! Glory to God in the highest!”

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The shepherds shook in fear. Staffs fell to the ground, hands covered faces, knees quaked and buckled.

The figures in the sky told them a baby had been born just up the hill in the town of Bethlehem. He was wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough.

The shepherds turned to each other. “Let’s go see what’s happening!”

As they ran up the hill and ducked their heads to enter the cave, they found the baby just like the angels had said. And as they reverently bowed in front of the swaddled newborn, they met their Kinsman Redeemer.

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A year ago, I sat in a cold, damp cave over six thousand miles away from home. Fellow travelers surrounded me, and I fought the claustrophobia threatening to interrupt the moment.

Around me, voices filled the cave. Rich bass and smooth tenor and soft soprano soaked into the stone walls, burst through the cave’s entrance, and filled the skies.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem!
Come, and behold Him, born the King of angels!

O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him;
O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!

As our voices mingled in praise to the one born King of angels, tears filled my eyes. I looked up to clear my vision, and noticed a light shone from a star carved out of the cave’s ceiling.  A reminder of that night long ago, when a star led the way to the manger nearby.

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Exactly one week before this awe-filled moment, I sat by the Christmas tree with my family, wearing pajamas and unwrapping gifts. And now, on a rainy day just outside of Bethlehem, I sat in a cave once used by shepherds for shelter while they kept watch over their flocks by night.

Sing, choirs of angels; sing in exultation;
sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest!

We left the cave, stepping over mosaic tiles spelling out Gloria in excelis Deo – Glory to
God in the highest. I looked out over this ancient land, the rocks and hills and shrubs and grass. Just over two thousand years ago, in that very same field where I now stood, a group of poor, rugged, weary sheep herders heard the news about the birth of the ultimate, once-and-for-all Redeemer. The One who came to bring humanity into the family of God. Who came to redeem us with the price of His own life.

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And now, on a rainy day on the outskirts of Bethlehem generations later, I stood. A small-town girl from America, standing on this holy ground. Grass and dirt and rocks like anywhere else set the stage for the announcement that changed the world.

Here, Boaz redeemed Ruth and Naomi’s family and continued the line that led to the birth of King David, then eventually to the birth of Jesus Christ. The landowner redeeming a mourning widow, changing her world for the better. A foreshadowing of Jesus Christ redeeming the world for all eternity.

And just up the hill from where I stood in my rain coat and jeans, a baby was born to a teenage girl. Jesus. God in the flesh. The One who gave His life for my redemption, His Spirit now living in me.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv’n!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!

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(The stories referenced here can be found in Scripture in the book of Ruth and Luke 2)

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