It is only January and my daffodils have already bloomed. Despite them being my favorite flower, I don't think that even the English poet William Wordsworth would want to see daffodils this early in the year. As I am rereading the prophets, studying them and their words, reading books about them, I came across this passage in Jeremiah where he says, "Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the produce from them." He wrote these words while the Israelites were in exile in Babylon. It was one of the most troublesome periods that came after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Yet here he is, writing to his people, that in the midst of their captivity they should plant gardens and build houses. Make a life in the midst of the turmoil and uncertainty and trials.
How many of the Israelites believed that God had forgotten them?
How many of them only longed to return to their own country?
Yet here was a prophet telling them to make a life in the midst of this was to plant gardens, build homes, have families. These were not the words they longed to hear from him or God. I daresay any of them were receptive to hearing this and were probably very hostile to such pronouncements.
How many of us would want to hear that when were experiencing great tragedy or uncertainty?
"Live your life."
Make normalcy. Create beauty.
Make normalcy. Create beauty.
What Jeremiah is telling them is to live their lives actively practicing hope. When we are in the midst of the wilderness do we?
Another prophet, Hosea, writes how God woos us to the wilderness. "Therefore I am going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her" (2:14). I don't know any of us who thinks of God leading us into the desert, into the wilderness as a kind of courtship but that's exactly what Hosea is writing. As Ann Voskamp wrote in The Broken Way, " . . .God takes us into the wilderness not to abandon us - but to be alone with us . . ." Hosea goes on to, once again use a gardening metaphor, with, "Then I will give her vineyards . . ." A metaphor that Christ will use many times in the New Testament to our relationship though him, in God. Here, in our wilderness, God will give us the richness and bountifulness of a vineyard. This is not a harsh God but a compassionate and loving one who, even in the midst of our suffering, offers restoration and redemption. He is offering us His love. Hosea says that God will give her, ". . . the valley of Achor as a door of hope."Isaiah also references this valley. For both prophets it is a way of providing the image of how a source of calamity can become a source of hope and blessing. Joy turned into despair.
How many of us need that right now?
Need that garden of hope and blessing in the midst of our wildernesses? Need to know that we are not abandoned or forgotten but beloved so much that the God of the universe wants to woo and be alone with us?
May we take hope then from the daffodils that bloom in the midst of our winters. May we see, even in the bright yellows and oranges, the very tenderness of God's hand.