God ‘s people in Israel had found themselves in exile. The prophets tell us that this was largely this people’s own fault. They had taken God for granted and neglected God’s ways. Because their lives were not as they should have been, they were a sitting duck for the invading military might of Babylon. Being taken north into exile … all seemed lost! Loss of land, social and spiritual connections; restricted freedom; living within a totally different culture – all hope seemed gone!!
Sometimes, because of the circumstances we face, we might think that all hope is gone. At other times, it is people close to us that we feel deeply for, as they go through struggles, and we sense that their hope is diminishing. There are so many people in desperate situations. We can even feel like we are in ‘exile’ in this world with all that is going on – so much evil happening in various parts of the world.
The prophet Jeremiah at the time might have said something like: “she’ll be right – you’ll be back home in no time”! But this would not be true – the situation the people were in was not going to be resolved so easily nor quickly. This would have been “false hope”, for it was not based in reality. Jeremiah was a ‘true’ prophet, and he was going to accurately reflect God’s take on the situation. This political situation will take seventy years to resolve. Get used to the idea, and settle down into some semblance of normal living.
So where was hope to be found? God would be with his people in this exile, and in their struggle (to adjust)! God would not leave his people to flounder in their difficulty and in their feelings of lostness! God remained available to them; while it is true that they couldn’t worship in the places of their choosing, God was still intimately close to them. This might be of encouragement to those we know, who in later years have moved into facilities where they would prefer not to be. God is mobile … not restricted to any place.
As God’s people began to carve out a new life for themselves in Babylon, and did so with integrity in terms of their relationships with all people, God would look after these people’s ultimate well-being – for surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Hope for these people would not be found in their surroundings (whether good or bad), not in their material resources (whether lots or little), not be found in physical places of worship (whether lavish or meagre), but rather purely in a relationship with God.
And for God to have “plans” for us, means that God really knows us well, and surely this suggests an enormous amount of loving intent. So when we cry out in despair, we know for sure that God hears us, and desires the best for us. There is a sense in this Jeremiah passage we have read, that when we come to terms with what matters most … our relationship with God (and through our relationship with God our relationship with our neighbour) … our future will be better than either the past or the present.
Seeking God with all our heart is the road to experiencing hope!! There is no barrier left to finding God – God certainly doesn’t put up any walls of separation – I will let you find me, says the Lord. And thus we can be refashioned and reformed … being prepared for eternity.
Now if this still seems a little illusive, then we can personalise this even more through our New Testament reading. You couldn’t have children disrupting Jesus could you!?! Jesus had more important things to do!?! Even his disciples, who should have known better, were party to stopping these children running up to Jesus. [These disciples had heard Jesus teaching on the need for humility (like you naturally see represented in children) just one chapter earlier.]
Here is a real downer … the natural and beautiful excitement of children being squashed by adults with misplaced priorities. Children had very low status in the society of that time, and Jesus would want to counteract that thinking, but also went on to elevate children as the ones we would have to emulate if we want to be fit for God’s kingdom. We don’t want to be repressing children and destroying their optimism. We know that a lot worse has been done to children that requires so much repentance and reparation.
Jesus of course senses better than anyone else what is at stake here: Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them. Jesus will not let hope be taken away! And not only that – Jesus presents an invitation to come to him that we can all respond to. Despite all the baggage and hurt that we have accumulated during winter, now that spring has arrived and Jesus is present, we can come to Jesus with all the humility and innocence of a child – it is to such as these [children] that the kingdom of heaven belongs. I’m sure Jesus touched every one of these children that were brought to him that day.
So much hope is lost through finding out that what we had invested most in turned out to be not worth as much as we had thought … things like work, achievement, status, material gain. So much hope is lost when some seem to rise while others get left behind. So much hope is lost through disappointment in other people. Yet hope is regained through a little trust and a bit of openness toward Jesus – a beautiful friend, wonderful Saviour, and the Lord of lords.
What a tremendous amount of hope there is in these scriptures. No matter how grim the winter has been, God is there, close available for the finding; bringing renewed opportunities of life and love. Spring comes around each year without any help from us! The same God that has set the seasons in place offers us new hope. We can allow the troubles of winter to dominate our spring, or embrace anew the hope that is in God.
And when other things and other people have tended to get in the way, Jesus makes way for us to come to him, and then places his hands gently upon us … such that hope springs eternal!