Winter arrived early this year, all this cold, the kids being sick, the bad news on TV and the darker days have got me down, how do I keep hope alive?

It is not a coincidence that Advent and our celebration of the birth of Christ come during this time of the year. Despite the joy of holiday festivities, this time is tough for many families. The light shrinks a little every day and the darkness grows, the holidays may highlight family divisions and conflicts, we and the kids may be sick with the latest cold virus, and to top it all the only news we hear seems to be bad news.

With Christmas in the heart of our winter, the bleakest time of the year, we cannot miss the contrast between the darkness we experience and the light about to be born.

St. Paul the Apostle preached about this light without ceasing. His letter to the Romans gives us a three-step blueprint of what we must do in the face of this yearly challenge to keep hope alive.

Hope Against Hope (Rom 4:18-25)
Paul writes about the promise God made to Abraham. God promised something so incredible that Abraham had to trust God without any proof in the face of seemingly impossible odds. How could he become the father of many nations if he and his wife Sarah were already advanced in years and had been unable to have children? Every year, it seems like winter will never end, every family gathering reminds us of some unhealed hurt, every time our kids get sick it seems like tomorrow will never come.

Paul tells us that we are to be like Abraham and “Hope against hope.” (Rom 4:18)  Faith in God is the foundation of hope. Like Abraham, we may not see the way, we may not fathom how it can be done, but God is the one who brings light out of darkness and life out of death. Let us have faith that what seems impossible for us is not impossible for God.

Recognize the love of God (Rom 8:31-39)
We often have good intentions going into the holidays. We try to plan and prepare and make things just right. However, often we find that our families are not the ideal on the greeting cards and our temperament is not up to the task of holiday stress and strain.

We need to remember our strength comes from the Lord. Jesus Christ has truly done the heavy lifting. He conquered sin and in his goodness offers us his Holy Spirit. His love is so deep and so profound that Paul declares emphatically:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35, 37-39).

Come what may this winter and during these holidays we are assured it cannot separate us from the love of God. Our job, then, is to remember this no matter how bleak things seem.

Give God a gift this Christmas (Rom 12:1-2)
Paul reminds us to have the faith of Abraham and a deep confidence in God’s love, and now he gives us the final ingredient to make hope live through all types of trials. Paul says to us, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1).

This will transform us from being passive recipients of God’s help and grace into living and active instruments in his hands. Paul goes on to say, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).    
By giving God the gift of our life this Christmas, we complete the holy circle that began when he gave us life and when he gave his life for us. This is a gift that is holy and acceptable to God. Do we lose ourselves when we give ourselves away to God? Oh, no. We receive a new and higher gift in return; we receive the transformation of our lives.

Having reached this place we no longer lose hope in the face of life’s trials, rather, discerning the will of God, even in the midst of the trials, we employ our bodies as obedient helpers of God, discerning what he wants us to do. What does this transformation look like in the messy “real world” life of our families? Perhaps the words of the popular “Servant Song” will give an ample image:

Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on the journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.

(Henry, his wife, Dr. Patricia Cabral, and their five children belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. Reyes wears many hats as a business owner, doctoral student and candidate in the deacon formation program for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but he says his most important hat is building his domestic church as a stay-at-home dad and homeschooling his three oldest children.)