It’s hopeless. How many times have you heard that said? How many times have you maybe said it yourself? I’m sure there are instances when we’ve all uttered those two profound and crushing words: It’s hopeless.

Christmas is about a lot of things. The blessings and joy found in family, loved ones and friends. Acting upon the fulfillment found in and through giving. But, to me, one of the most pivotal and powerful themes of Christmas is found in one word — hope.

Christmas is based upon the birth narrative of Jesus Christ. In Christian tradition, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago was the incarnation or physical embodiment of hope. That tradition states Jesus was the long-awaited and hoped-for Messiah. He was the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation who had been prophesied about for millennia in the Hebrew Bible. The little baby, born in a manger, under a star, visited by shepherds and wise men from the East, was a tiny bundle of hope in human form.

Also, according to that same tradition, the hope that this baby would bring was not in toppling the established political and military order of that time. This baby was not destined to conquer territory, but the hearts and minds of men. His mission was to infuse hearts with hope, peace, love and redemption. That is the essence of the Christmas narrative. The holiday was created by Christians to pay homage to this narrative. To yearly commemorate the day, they say hope was birthed into the world.

Unfortunately, that message has become muddled and lost as Christianity has been turned into a political weapon that contributes to the intense polarization that exists in our society. Yet the message of the faith’s founder was a very apolitical one. His message focused on the possibilities of change that could come to the human heart and human nature. It was not a message of establishing political dominance or establishing a religious empire. Instead, he offered hope.

To live without hope is to live in a dark place. To live without the belief that better things are possible is to be held captive in an emotional and psychological prison. Hope is to life as oxygen is to a fire. Remove the oxygen and the fire dies. Remove hope and the fire of life is extinguished, metaphorically, within a person. Having hope is vital. As the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky observed, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” There is a saying that a person can live 40 days without food, around three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only one second without hope. It’s essential.

Hope is said to have a source, a spring whose waters are renewed each year when we celebrate Christmas. As we gather with family, sing songs of glad tidings and joy, share a bountiful meal over family stories and laughter, give gifts under the gleaming lights of a Christmas tree … as we’re moved to give and to love, to show compassion and understanding, the waters of hope become refreshed. The belief in possibilities is renewed.

As Christmas marks the imminent closing of one year and the ushering in of another, hope — the belief in possibilities — is the perfect companion to take into a new year. The belief that positive, good and profound possibilities can happen, that they can be realized. This belief is desperately needed today. So much in our nation politically and socially causes many to say: It’s hopeless! We’re constantly bombarded with news of tragedy, misfortune, injustices and corruption. It could easily lead one to conclude: It’s hopeless!

But I love the words of Martin Luther King Jr., because he insightfully proclaimed, “Only in darkness can you see the stars.” So it is that in times like these that the fire of hope should burn the brightest within us.

In 2018, when you begin to doubt, or at times feel hopeless, remember the message of Christmas. Remember the message of hope, the message of the possibilities that exist, the message that the story is always unfolding, the book is not finished, there are chapters yet to be written. I again have to quote Dr. King, who so beautifully said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”