The Story Behind the Christmas Story
Ok, so December probably seems a long way off, but if you’re a church leader you may have already begun thinking about the autumn term and therefore what your approach to Advent & Christmas will be this year. If not, then save this post to read in October, but if you’re already making plans, then read on…
We’re all familiar with the Christmas story, but do you know the story behind the Christmas story?
This Advent I’d love you and your congregation to discover afresh the ‘back-story’ to Christmas, and find Hope under Bethlehem skies.
You see, tucked away in the Old Testament, hundreds of years before Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus, is the story of a girl called Ruth. And at a time when we’re very aware of all that is not right in our world, this story is one that rings true. It’s a story of sadness and tears, even of death, but it’s a story where hope is found in the darkest of places.
Hope is what we need right now, isn’t it? After all, for most of us, these have been the strangest years in living memory. Maybe the very idea of ‘celebrating’ at Christmas this year feels like a gear shift, given how uncertain things have been recently. But that’s why the season of Advent is so precious for us in these strange times.
Tish Harrison Warren describes the Christian rhythm of Advent as ‘leaning into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime’. Yes, we need to hold a place for the feasting of Christmas, but if all that our culture or the Church has to offer come December is ‘incessant cheer’, then it’ll soon fade, or more likely people will see past it.
Advent is a gift, a ‘collective space… to look long and hard at what is cracked and fractured in our world and in our lives’. And that’s what makes Ruth the perfect accompaniment for this Advent especially. It invites us to see an aching world that we recognise all too well – and yet it also reminds us how the steadfast kindness of God can bring hope to such a world.
If I may, I want to suggest two ways to journey through Ruth this Advent:
1) Preaching God’s Steadfast-Kindness Sunday by Sunday
Ruth is the perfect book for a short punchy preaching series. The four chapters divide quite naturally into four sermons, so why not consider beginning this journey on Advent Sunday (28th November).
When we did this as a church back in 2019, we then finished by looking at the last few verses of Ruth 4 and Matthew’s genealogy on Christmas Day (the latter of course features Ruth, Boaz and Obed), bringing the series and the story to its fullest climax.
You could use an outline like this:
- Sun 28th Nov: Ruth 1 – An Advent Journey
- Sun 5th Dec: Ruth 2 – Grace Upon Grace
- Sun 12th Dec: Ruth 3 – Approaching the Redeemer: I Will Do It
- Sun 19th Dec: Ruth 4:1-12 – The Cost of Christmas
- Sat 25th Dec: Ruth 4:13-22; Matthew 1 – Who Would Have Dreamed?
To give you a rough sense of where I’d go, week-by-week in the sermon series, I’ve used the popular Hook-Book-Look-Took preaching steps and outlined this on a separate page here: Preaching through Ruth during Advent.
2) Walking Daily Together through Ruth
But as well as journeying through Ruth on Sundays in Advent, I’d love your church community to discover together the riches of Ruth through a daily Advent devotional I’ve written, Finding Hope Under Bethlehem Skies.
Published by 10ofthose and available for as little as £1 per copy if you buy in bulk, the devotional is made up of twenty-five written reflections, one for every day in December, up to and including Christmas Day.
For each day, you’ll be encouraged to read a few verses from Ruth and then a written reflection – each one just 500-600 words. As part of each day, there is also a suggestion for prayer or questions for further consideration. People might like to commit to reading the reflections with a friend or family and then discussing these closing questions together.
Each day’s entry then finishes with suggesting a song or contemporary version of a carol, by way of a response. These have been collated into a Spotify playlist that can easily be found online – just search for ‘Finding Hope under Bethlehem Skies’ on the Spotify app. Advent & Christmas are seasons where music can really help us embed the wonder of it all, so I hope this selection of songs helps Ruth’s message echo in your home & heart.
You can see what some other people have made of the devotional here.
One of my own favourite Christmas carols – ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ – includes this line:
‘Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.‘
So why not consider journeying together through the book of Ruth this Advent, and as you do I pray that you might indeed find hope in the darkest of nights.
If you’d like to order copies of Finding Hope Under Bethlehem Skies, you can get them direct from the publisher 10ofthose at a bulk rate of 25 for £2.50 each, 50 for £1.75 each, or, incredibly, 100 for £1 each. Maybe you could gift every church member a copy to read through Advent, or sell them at your church services in November?