As Christians around the world wait for Christmas, we're focusing on communities and language groups who are still waiting for the Bible in their own languages - 1 billion bibleless people.
Christian traditions which use Advent candles this week lit the second candle to symbolize faith. The second candle is often called the Bethlehem Candle, in reference to Micah's prophecy that the Christ would be born in David's city of Bethlehem.
Faith in the Bible
Faith is a good follower of the first Advent candle's theme of hope because the biblical ideas are closely related. The writer of Hebrews defines faith this way:
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
Faith is a central idea throughout the Pauline Epistles as well, specifically faith in Christ. Paul exhorts his readers in the early churches that they can be convinced of the gospel even though they were not eye-witnesses to the events of Jesus' life.
Faith of the Bibleless
Those who are still waiting for the Bible in their language have tremendous stories of faith.
One translation consultant was working with a language group in Ethiopia that had no Scripture translation. However, when the translators heard the Old Testament stories in their
language for the first time, they immediately recognized them as stories their elders had been telling for generations!
It turns out that this language was related to Ge'ez, one of two African languages that had translations of the Bible within the first six centuries AD! These are some of the oldest Bible translations that scholars are aware of. Ethiopia has long been a bridge between Africa and the Middle-East, and the large Jewish influence on their culture has resulted in many minority groups -- previously considered to have no contact with the Bible -- being almost more familiar with its contents than much of the Western church.
Even without Bible translations of their own, these language groups had passed down the oral stories of their ancestors (in some cases going all the way back to 1000 BC and the time of King Solomon) in faith to the next generation.
Talk about "conviction of things not seen!"
The Assurance of Things Hoped For
These communities told and retold stories through thousands of years that shaped their worldviews, values, and beliefs in a God who rescued his people from Egypt and who would come again to deliver them from darkness.
They received God's Word in their heart languages with such joy of this hope finally realized. I imagine it was a small taste of the joy Mary felt as she looked into the face of her newborn son, knowing that he was the promised King whom the prophets had been foretelling for centuries.
Pray with me today for those who are still longing and hoping for the news of God's coming to rescue them. Pray that their faith would be strengthened even in the midst of adversity and opposition. Pray for those working to bring the Bible to these groups for the first time during this season of expectant waiting. And thank God for the joy that has been promised to those who wait and hope in his Word!