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.
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.
For every book, there is a story behind the story. Here is the one behind While Bethlehem Sleeps: A Poetic Advent Devotional.
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.
November 10, 2018