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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE

New Year’s Eve


When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.


And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:11-13



Well, here we are on the last day of the year looking ahead to next year and we wonder what lies ahead. Wouldn’t it be useful if, at the end of a year, we could view what the year ahead holds for us? Maybe if we knew what to expect, we might avoid some difficulties.


Think of Moses, after leading his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years, finally bringing them to the very edge of the Promised Land. Because Moses had not trusted and honored the Lord at the waters of Meribah, the Lord would not let him cross over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. But he had Moses climb Mt. Nebo, the summit of Pisgah, and from there the Lord showed him the whole land. That was a miraculous gift from God, for natural, human eyes cannot see the whole land from there. And, in that the children of Israel would soon enter and conquer that land, Moses was looking into the future – and he liked what he saw.


We could also think of Joseph, arriving in Bethlehem with Mary just in time for Jesus to be born. The preceding months had already given Joseph enough unexpected turns to last him a lifetime. From his vantage point in Bethlehem, did he expect to return to Nazareth and back to work in his carpenter shop? Maybe. But he got a glimpse of the future. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So Joseph took his family and hightailed it to Egypt. Unfortunately, in life, we don’t get a preview like what Moses or Joseph had. The best we can do is use the experiences of the past to prepare for what seems probable for the future. But we never really know what lies ahead.


While the Bible does not offer a way to see the future, it does offer a way to approach the future. In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul identified three great Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love. We may think of these virtues separately, but they are really interrelated ways to find our way forward.


For Christians, faith is essential. We must have confidence in God and belief in Christ. And Christians will demonstrate love toward fellow travelers in this life. But Paul points out that both faith and love depend on hope. Hope is the element that provides a basis for faith and love. Clarence Macartney, a preacher from an earlier era, once said that God has placed in our hands two lamps. One is the lamp of memory, which lights the past. That lamp enables us to look back on the year we have just come through, and treasure good things and learn from hard things.


The other is the lamp of hope, which lights the future. It’s not that hope enables us to foresee events, but it gives us a certainty that, whatever lies ahead, God will have the last word.


Picture a man stumbling along in heavy fog, completely disoriented. But then in the distance, he sees light from one small lamp. It’s neither sufficient to burn off the fog, nor enough to illuminate the obstacles on the ground between the man and the lamp. Still, it is burning steadily. Something within makes him believe if he heads toward that lamp, he’ll be going in the right direction. That something we will call “faith”. While heading toward the lamp he finds another lost man whose eyesight is so poor he can’t see the lamp. So the first man takes him by the hand and helps him toward the lamp also. The act of reaching out to another we will call “love”. And the lamp that draws him? It is called “hope”.


You see, our hope radiates toward us from a distant source, and that source is God. Hope is not something that originates in us. Hope is a gleam from God that gives us confidence that our faith and our love are not misplaced.


The word hope has been diluted today because it has sometimes been made synonymous with wishing. We buy a ticket in the lottery and hope that we hit the right numbers. Our children go to school, and we hope that they will behave themselves. We’re asked if we’ll go to Heaven when we die, and we say we hope so.


In biblical usage, hoping and hope are not the same thing. The Christian hope is not simply a wish that perhaps the promises of God may be true. It is confidence that they cannot be anything but true!


Hoping is a verb – hope is a noun. Hoping is something we do – hope is something we have. The Apostle Paul began his first letter to Timothy like this: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus our hope.” (1 Timothy 1:1)


Well, here we are on the eve of a new year. Perhaps we have some notion about what the coming year will be like. We may have some plans and expectations, or, like Joseph, we may have just gone through some unexpected changes and may assume that things will settle down now – but don’t be too sure! Though we might like to have a Mount Nebo view of what lies ahead, it’s one of God’s good gifts that we can’t see it. After all, if we knew about joys ahead, we’d probably miss the goodness of today in our eagerness to get there. And if we knew about problems, we’d fill today with dread.


A better approach is exemplified by Joseph. He didn’t know what would happen. He didn’t know if he’d even live to return to Nazareth. But he trusted God, and he knew the Biblical hope.


Paul testified about the power of hope, Moses died contentedly because of it, and Joseph moved out and moved on because of it.


We, too, have the hope of the Gospel, allowing us to move forward into the new year. Trusting God that whatever the time ahead holds, we are His, and He is ours.


Amen

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