Advent, while bethlehem sleeps

Second Sunday of Advent: Peace

This reading for the second Sunday of Advent appears in While Bethlehem Sleeps: A Poetic Advent Devotional.

Peace: An Essential Lesson

Second Sunday of Advent

Often our peace of mind is interrupted. Maybe a recent job loss causes discouragement. Perhaps decisions cause worry. Or, as this story shared by Charles Swindoll illustrates, we encounter irritation through the actions—and inactions—of others.

A man riding a bus was greatly disturbed at a young boy who was running up and down the aisle of the bus screaming and laughing at the top of his lungs, while the young boy’s dad just sat idly by. The man could not believe that someone would be so rude and inconsiderate of the other people around him. He then noticed other unflattering things about the man. His hair was unkempt, so he was probably homeless, and his eyes were bloodshot, so he had to be an alcoholic. Finally, not able to take any more of the child, this man went and approached the dad and demanded that he get control of his young son.

            If we stop the story there, we sense the impending conflict. We may understand the man’s consternation as he strides toward who he believes to be a disengaged, unfit parent.We may cringe for the father who is reprimanded by a stranger for his son’s belligerence. Or the child might be our greatest concern depending on our own parenting styles or our own children’s personalities. Whether we want to admit it or not, we have taken a side in this situation based on our own perspectives. Here, then, is the reason to keep reading.

The dad seeming to be shaken from a trance apologized to the man and told him that the boy’s mom, his wife, had just died at the hospital after struggling all night, and he was trying to think of a way to break the news to the boy.[i]

Suddenly, our feelings jerk back and forth as if someone pulled the stop request cord on the bus. Depending on our personal experiences, we may be ashamed or empathetic or both. As raw grief scars this father’s heart, he contemplates how to explain this tragic loss to his son. At the worst moment of their lives, a stranger demands an apology for his choice to be annoyed. The story moves on in our minds. We claim our responses—to explaining death, to expressing irritation, to experiencing sorrow—would be different. Instead, we need to pull the stop request cord. We must hear the whole story. Only then can we extend essential peace to others during this Advent season.


Advent, while bethlehem sleeps

The First Sunday of Advent: Hope

The following excerpt, originally presented and written by my father Paul L. H. Olson for a Sunday School series for Advent, appears in While Bethlehem Sleeps: A Poetic Advent Devotional.

Hope: An Anticipatory Lesson

First Sunday of Advent

Shortly after publishing While Bethlehem Sleeps, Penny posed this question to her family during an Advent season devotional series: “What is hope?”

My then-ten-year-old grandson eagerly raised his hand and said, “If I say, ‘I hope I have a good day,’ I mean‘I wish I have a good day.’” That was the way my daughter hoped he would respond. Her interpretation of the word hopecontinues.

Our English definition of hope [i]is “the belief or expectation that something wished for can or will happen.” It goes on to state “a virtuous desire for future good” with 1 Corinthians 13:13 as the Christian meaning for “hope.”

But, our English definition of hope is not quite biblical. As my ten-year-old did, we interchange the words hope and wish. Yet, those words are defined very differently in the Hebrew and Greek.

The Hebrew language of the Old Testament uses several words for hope and wish, and the Greek language of the New Testament consolidates the words for hopeinto two to four.

Most of the Hebraic words for hope include the word expectation as part of the definition.The Greek words include the word trust along with expectation. Therefore, the first part of our English definition is true. “Hope is the belief or expectation that ….” But, here the similarities end.

The words for wish in Hebrew and in Greek are defined not by expectation but by intention. One of the Hebrew words, nephesh,means “a soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, passion, appetite,emotion.” This particular word sounds selfish. The Greek words used in the New Testament focus on “desire,” “will,” “intent,” even “unattainable wish.” Unlike a hope with the anticipation of an expected outcome, a wish is bent on a desire that may or may not be fulfilled.So, Christmas Hope is “expectation in the intentional Advent of Jesus Christ”—historically as Messiah, presently as Redeemer in our lives, and in our future Rapture.


Advent, Links, Poetry

While Bethlehem Sleeps: Author’s Note

For every book, there is a story behind the story. Here is the one behind While Bethlehem Sleeps: A Poetic Advent Devotional.

Author’s Note

            In 1995, my mother asked me to write the poem for her Christmas card. “Christmas Wonder” was that poem, and it remains a personal favorite. Since then, I have written a poem for her card and some for my own. Additional poems from church Advent readings joined the list. The result was nearly a book-length collection.

            I needed something to tie the poems together. The most natural way to do this was to use the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. (I also added a fifth theme of faith as a way to bring in the New Year.)

            But, something was still missing. As sometimes happens with writers, a phrase popped into my head. This phrase became the title and starting line for poems based on the biblical characters highlighted in the Christmas story. It also became the title for the book I self-published in 2012: While Bethlehem Sleeps.

            Since its publication, my father, Paul L. H. Olson, has been asked to teach Sunday School lessons on the subject of Advent. With my permission, he used my poems as the backbone for the lessons and wove in additional facts and stories about Advent and its themes. He has taught this course twice to-date.

            In 2016, we decided it was time to collaborate by bringing my poems and his lessons together into a devotional. Here is the result of that effort.

Our hope is that you will personally apply these lessons during your private devotional time as well as in your family observance of Advent. We desire a greater sense of peace and joy to enter your homes at this time. Above all, we pray love for one another and this cherished season will fill your hearts. May your heart, mind, and spirit awaken as you experience Advent through While Bethlehem Sleeps: A Poetic Advent Devotional.


Penny J. Johnson

November 10, 2018

Advent, News, Poetry, Publication Updates

New Release! While Bethlehem Sleeps: A Poetic Advent Devotional Now Available in Paperback.


While Bethlehem Sleeps: A Poetic Advent Devotional is now available in paperback and for Kindle.


In 2012, While Bethlehem Sleeps awakened readers to reflect on the Christmas story through poetry depicting character sketches, Advent themes, and seasonal musings. This expanded edition provides devotional insights with poetic highlights. Activities at the end of each daily reading assist in extending Advent throughout the week with individual, family, and community impact. The inclusion of the original poetry collection ensures intellectual, inspirational reading year after year.


Penny J. Johnson is an author and editor whose previous works include three poetry collections, one novel, and one devotional. She enjoys facilitating a women’s Bible study, home educating, knitting, and meeting up for coffee with family and friends. Penny lives in Minnesota with her husband, their three sons, their two Labrador Retrievers, and their Ragdoll-Himalayan.


Paul L.H. Olson is an executive adviser and board director for large and small corporations, not-for-profit, and higher education organizations. He serves as an adult Sunday School teacher and as a spiritual, leadership mentor. Paul lives in Minnesota with his wife and spends his free-time golfing, fishing, reading, and traveling.