The word of the day is “country.” As we begin the new year, hardly anyone of us would like to go back to the difficulties of the past year. We wish for a better time ahead despite the current challenges our society faces. Our passage of Hebrews 11:8, 11-16 also writes about hope. But it is not a hope for a better life here on earth. t is the longing for celestial world far above the struggles of this life. Thus, the apostle writes about those who have spent their entire lives in the expectation of a greater kingdom. He says, “but now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (vs. 16).
Our reading begins with Abraham’s call to leave his homeland “to go out to the place where he would receive his inheritance” (vs. 8). It was indeed a venture of faith, for he did not know where he was going (vs. 8).
Go Out of Your Country
The native land of Abraham’s father, Terah, was the prosperous city of Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:27-32). Ur was a port on the Euphrates River, a crossroads of trade with an impressive ziggurat. But Terah led his family out of the comfort of this civilized city to go to Haran in the Land of Canaan. When Terah died, the Lord called to Abram to “go out of your county, from your kindred, and from your father’s house to a land I will show you (Genesis 12:1). There in this land of promise, he lived in tents and put his hope in the promise that God would build him a city (vs. 11).
Not once did Abraham look back to think of the luxuries of his father’s homeland. If he had, he would have taken the opportunity to return (vs. 15). But Abraham’s eyes were on his hope, and his trust was in the promise of God. That hope did not allow him to become too comfortable in his circumstances. For a life of ease without hardship soon breeds complacency and one forgets the goal of one’s hope.
It is tempting to think that sometime in this coming year, things will go back to normal. We would like to believe that we will recover the comfort of our former life. But the resurgence of the COVID-19 virus keeps reminding us that our lives are both brief and uncertain.
When will this realization convince us to invest our hopes in a “heavenly country” as Abraham did (vs. 16)? When will we finally decide to look forward to a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:38)?
An Alternative Hope
Instead of fretting over the present situation, we should listen to the writer of Hebrews. He teaches that “we should run with perseverance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Accordingly, we should not wish for the comforts and successes of this world, trophies that are fragile and fleeting. But if we are running a race for a prize as the apostle says, then we should study how to run the race. We should learn what its end is. And we should contemplate its matchless prize.
How should we do this? We should resolve to study the nature of the Kingdom of God and what it means to live according to it. Especially in this season of Theophany, we should learn the way of the Kingdom from the teachings and works of the Lord in the Gospels. Then the hope of a “heavenly country” will eclipse all the dark turmoil of this present age and we will live in peace.