Ruth felt the ache of the winter’s cold in her joints, and as she settled on her pallet, she felt a deep weariness. Gripping the wool blankets in her gnarled hands, she lay back, nestling into her bed. Matthew knelt by the hearth and stacked fresh, dry wood along with brush in the fireplace. Blowing on the coals, sparks flew up the chimney, spinning in circles. As the wood caught, he sat back on his heels, brushing the cinders from his hands and cloak. She welcomed the warmth of fire, feeling fingers of heat creep across the room to where she lay.
“That should carry you through the night, Grandmother. It is late and I am expected home.” Ruth reached out to her grandson and gripped his offered hands, “I’ll be by early in the morning with fresh wood and water, before I tend to the sheep.”
“Thank you, Matthew, my boy. You have been a blessing to me this evening. Go with God.” She kissed her fingertips and placed them tenderly on his forehead as he bent towards her. Watching him walk out the door, her eyes burned. His faithfulness to her in these past years was a precious gift, and the time spent together had brought her great joy. He reminded her of Jacob in so many ways: his smile, his gentleness, his faith in God. His grandfather had passed down a legacy of noble character, tireless patience and a strong belief in the goodness of Yahweh, a result of all he witnessed that first noel. A gift that Ruth treasured as she watched their children and their children’s children live lives of faith.
Closing her eyes, Ruth sighed, feeling her body melt into the mattress. Her body was exhausted, but her mind continued to be full of memories, some sweet and others bitter. Images fluttered through her thoughts as she lay in the dark ...
Ruth remembered how crushed Jacob had been to hear that Mary and Joseph had departed in the middle of the night, leaving without saying goodbye. Following the visit from the angels he had spent every extra moment during his days and nights, sitting with the family and talking to Joseph. In those few days, he seemed to grow up before Ruth’s very eyes, becoming more mature and wise. While Jacob was shaken the morning he discovered the stable cold and empty, his faith never wavered and he continued to share the miracle of the Messiah’s birth to everyone in the village and any visitors who stopped to listen.
Her mother’s coldness endured through the spring and summer, in spite of Ruth’s efforts to restore their former intimacy. While she refrained from speaking of the baby Messiah in her mother’s presence, she shared freely with visitors to the inn about their special guests and the baby that had been born on the night of her birthday. As the seasons passed, Ruth accepted the possibility that her mother might never believe and that sadness grew like a lump of ice in her heart. Then with the death of Benjamin, her mother was lost to her forever.
Tears pricked Ruth’s eyes and she felt the hot tears slip from her eyes, gliding into her silver hair as she lay, stretched out on her back. She would never forget the horror of that day, nor the terrifying clamor of the soldiers as they filled the village, hunting for the baby boys. The screams and cries echoed in her mind, the barbarity of the mass killings haunted her still. Even her father’s faith had been shaken at the loss of Benjamin, an innocent victim of King Herod’s jealous rage. But it was her mother who suffered the most and the following winter, she faded away, dying from a wounded heart.
Ruth had fought against waves of fear and anger in the frozen months that followed; questioning God and wrestling with His purposes, but Jacob had listened to her and gently reminded her of the promises made by the angels and the prophets. Each in their own way, they had given their hearts to Jesus on that midwinter’s night and that shared moment had drawn them close together, a bond that would be strengthened in the years to come.
Ruth smiled as she recalled their wedding celebration, the births of their children and the years full of family and work. She reflected on the goodness of God in the health of their family and the provision of the inn to meet the needs of their growing family. Of course, there had been seasons when their needs seemed overwhelming and God seemed to have forgotten them, but lying there in the dark, she could see that God had been present every moment of her every day. Silver strands of His presence wove through her memories like a spider’s web, all fanning out from that moment, that night when she sat in the hay, watching Mary worship her baby, with a kiss.
Suddenly an picture came sharply into focus, a memory that had hidden away in a lost corner of her mind. Jacob had arranged for Ruth and their children to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover many years ago and when they had arrived, crowds swarmed the streets. Some were pilgrims like themselves while others filled the streets as a result of a great trial that had the city in an uproar. As Jacob pushed through the crowds, they were caught up in a procession headed up a hill to the outskirts of town. They managed to keep their family together, but soon found themselves standing amidst a crowd, watching a battery of Roman soldiers carry out a crucifixion. It was gruesome and Ruth gathered her children, forcing her way out of the throng, escaping the scene of death. Before she could flee, however, she caught sight of a woman kneeling at the foot of one of the men who hung on a cross. The older woman wept and then stood and kissing her hand, reached up to touch the feet of the condemned man.
The image of the kiss shook Ruth as she lay on her mattress. Her eyes sprung open in the darkness, realization dawning on her suddenly. She would not have recognized the man, but the woman ... the woman she could never forget. The same nose, the same eyes and the same kiss of adoration. The words of the prophet Isaiah washed over Ruth, tears of joy streaming down her lined face,
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Clasping her hands against her chest, she clenched her eyes shut, and spoke into the the darkness of her humble house. Words of praise bubbled up from Ruth’s lips, “That baby truly was your gift of Salvation, Lord Yahweh. The Redemption of Israel and a Light to the Gentiles. Thank you for the gift of your Son, Immanuel, God with us. I give you my heart anew.”
Ruth felt the relentless pain leave her body and she sighed, relief flooding her bones and her spirit. Peace coursed through her veins and she felt sleep tugging at her, ushering her into a time of rest. And when again, she opened her eyes, it was Jesus she saw.
“Welcome home, little Ruth.”Midwinter Memories
My gift to you ... and a gift you can share with those you love!
My gift to you ... and a gift you can share with those you love!