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, Uncategorized

25 Days of Advent: The First Sunday of Advent

On this first Sunday of Advent, I am reflecting on the tradition of Advent in my own life. The notion of celebrating Advent was introduced to me in my high school years. Each Sunday of Advent, candles were lit in our services to represent the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. My family participated in reading during one of these candle lightings, and we read a poem written by my grandmother. As a college student and young-married adult, I was invited to write for the Advent booklet distributed among the congregants. I continued contributing at the next church we attended as well.

Although this tradition was practiced in our church, my childhood family did not practice the candle lighting at home. I received an Advent wreath as a wedding gift and displayed it for years without actually lighting the candles. It wasn’t until my sons were old enough to understand and after I received a wooden Advent calendar cabinet from my mother that we began to celebrate each Sunday of Advent in this way.

Seventeen years later, I am now cognizant of how this tradition has shaped our family’s preparation for Christmas morning. Some years, I filled the Advent calendar cabinet with Hershey kisses and Bible readings. Later years, I included Lego mini-figurines. When the boys were young, we read a story series on Sunday evenings before lighting the candle display. I published While Bethlehem Sleeps in 2012, and we used that format for our readings.

The paint of the original wreath is chipped now, and the candle tapers are in various stages of use. Hope’s candle has dripped the lowest because it is always lit first. Even after replacing the wreath with a wrought iron holder for pillars, that first candle curls more than the others. Somehow hope always seems to work the hardest to retain its flame.

Some years were harder than others to maintain our weekly vespers. There were moans and groans, and not just from the kids. For this reason, we put faith’s action behind our anticipation of the season. Otherwise, our hope threatens to drip too low. Our flame dims. Or it waxes completely.

This year, my youngest son and I are studying Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado. When prompted to consider what we want to gain from the study, we decided the most important thing was to be faithful in completing it together. How easy it is for us to become so distracted with daily living and Christmas doings that we could let this part of our preparations slide! Because Christmas is often a time of busyness, taking time to sit and reflect requires work. We have to be faithful in our following just as much as we are hopeful, peaceful, joyful, and loving. By gathering together, we remember why we celebrate at this time of year. We give of ourselves so that we may receive and annually retrieve the most important Gift from the manger. We invite Him into our celebration.

After all, it is His incarnate arrival that we commemorate.




My youngest son asked me yesterday what my 2017 resolution is.

I told him I have a lot of goals. But, I didn’t tell him what they were or name my resolution.

Honestly, I had to give it some more thought.

I came to the conclusion that we get the word goal and resolution confused.

A goal is something we hope to achieve. We set down objectives. We spend hours at it. The result is a to-do list of mountainous proportion we might cross off by December 31, but we are likely to abandon before mid-February.

A resolution is something we determine to achieve. The objectives are set. The list is made. Our goal? Follow.

But, what about the mountain?

It’s there. Yet, so is the path. Just stay on it.

That’s resolve.

Resolutions, unlike goals, mean a life-altering decision has occurred.

When Daniel resolved to refrain from eating the royal food, he made a conscious decision at the beginning of his captivity. He never wavered in that determination even when that food was offered to him. He challenged the authorities that demanded he eat it by saying he would be healthier if he continued on his diet of vegetables and water. While the other captives gorged on the rich morsels, he and his three friends continued what they had already set their minds on doing. The end result? They were proven healthier. And they got promotions.

Great job with a divine health plan, right? Maybe. Except that I don’t think Daniel’s friends expected an all-inclusive trip to the fiery furnace nor did Daniel plan that his corporate climb would include a decent into the lion’s den. Otherwise Daniel might have added a goal of “lion-fighting” to that year’s to-list, and his friends might have taken a course in fire-fighting.

So, how did they get through these setbacks?

Another resolution, of course.

They prayed.

They prayed the way they had been taught before they were taken into captivity. No matter what happened, they never stopped.

Prayer was part of their lifestyle. Even when their lives became threatened. Daniel and his friends, whether tempted with choice food or choosing life or death, resolved to stay on the determined path.

So, what is your resolution?

Don’t confuse it with a list of goals you only hope to achieve over the course of one year.

Make it a decision to live starting now and in the years to come.

Maybe it’s a word you used to know, but have somehow forgotten. Maybe you simply need to know how to get back on the path.

Choose a word that goes beyond what food to eat. Choose a word that depends on life and death.

Pray. (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV)

Live. (James 4:13-15 NASB)

Love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Hope. (Romans 5:3-5)

Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)

Then resolve.