Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable] sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’ And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’
Another New Year begins. The past year with its yearnings, hopes, and fears is at an end. A new day is about to dawn. Or is it? Anticipation of what is to come still brings with it anxiety about some of the difficult things that have happened and might yet be repeated.
The passage from Hebrews brings with it a significant reminder of the role of faith in life’s journey. Faith is not a generalized or abstract concept but is embodied by reference to particular people for whom faith has been key to their life’s journey.
The start of a New Year is a helpful time to reflect back on all that has happened over the previous year and to make resolutions for what lies ahead in the coming year. But resolutions can be of the moment, lamented over in a week or two as being too difficult to implement, or forgotten in a month or two.
The stories of people of faith come as an encouraging reminder of the God who is with us for the long term, however much we might fail and falter on the way. This God sustains us through good times and bad.
When I’m tempted to look to the future and think that all is lost, that I can’t see where new light will come from, I remember the stories of the faithful people of God, from scriptural times to the present. These people have persevered against the odds, including Abraham and Sarah, who didn’t know what lay in front of them, but trusted in the one who called them, and in this trust bore fruit.
As I start this New Year, I pray for this kind of trust to be fruitful in my life in the year that lies ahead.
Gracious God as I start this New Year, open my eyes to see you in all things. Grant me the trust to live day by day in your way. Gift me with the hope to see hidden possibilities that you hold in store. When I feel I don’t know where I’m going, remind me of those who have travelled faithfully in your way, not knowing where you would lead them. Thank you for the gift of faith. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Elizabeth Welch, past Moderator of URC General Assembly, member of St Andrews URC Ealing.