One year ago, six days before Christmas, I stood alone at my mother’s bedside, hands on her gaunt shoulders and sang as she took her last breath. The shock and grief of losing my 65-year-old mother to rapidly advancing cancer was so devastating that I don’t recall a single gift that I gave my children that holiday or how we celebrated.

My clearest memory during the harrowing winter months that followed is of my own voice – so much like hers, everyone told me. How, if I wasn’t careful when I let out my own breath in a sigh of sorrow or fatigue, it sounded just like my mother dying. Her final agony echoed in my mind as the snow piled outside our Bath New Englander, and I gratefully let it barricade me in, relieved for several months of excuses to stay home and nurse my sorrow.

Getting through the first year after losing someone is hard. Losing someone you love around the holidays threatens to perpetually steal the joy from an otherwise festive time of year. But as the first anniversary of my mom’s passing approached and merry wreaths appeared on lampposts and bright lights adorned neighbors’ porches, the pain of losing my mom also reminded me of what Christmas is all about.

That baby lying in a manger isn’t the reason for holiday sales; it’s the reason for my hope.

The angels who announced Christ’s birth weren’t singing an advertising jingle; they were proclaiming God’s salvation to the world.

The shepherds who came to worship, weren’t oooing and ahhhing over the latest tech devise; they were awing over the long-anticipated arrival of the promised one.

The star that drew the wisemen wasn’t suspended above a big-box store; it was a beacon to people walking in darkness.

“There will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish,” the prophet Isaiah foretold of Christ’s birth. A few lines later, he shares why, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them,” (Isaiah 9:1-2).

Or as John, the beloved disciple, wrote seven centuries later, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world,” John 1:9. “To those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” verse 12 promises.

This is the hope of Christmas, the hope that those we have lost are not lost forever. The hope that when we walk through deepest darkness, God will illuminate our path. And the hope that – by taking the form of a man – God himself enters into our sorrow.

Even for those who have not recently lost someone close, this past year brought devastatingly darkness to our small planet. Sixty million people driven from their homes by war and persecution. The desperate march of 3 million Syrian refugees. The hate-fueled rise of terrorism. The advancing fear that threatens to destroy our God-given kindness and compassion at a time when kindness and compassion are needed more than ever.

How quickly our hearts grow weary and cold. Our choice is to embrace the fear and suffering or to embrace the peace and promises of God. That is what the apostle Paul means when he writes that we who believe in Christ don’t grieve as those who have no hope. Yes, we grieve, but – by faith – we also look beyond our sorrow to the everlasting hope of Christ.

As a missionary and linguist, my mom spent her life sharing this hope with others in the Middle East, a region that is a modern hotbed of violence. It is the same hope that carried her through her illness. And it is why, although I miss her every day, rather than being blue this Christmas, I rejoiced in it all the more.

“For unto us, a child is born, to us a son is given … and he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” Isaiah 9:6.

You see, Christmas is the promise that I will see my mom again.

Meadow Rue Merrill is a midcoast writer, editor, inspirational speaker and mom of six who writes a weekly column Faith Notes. She can be found online at www.meadowrue.com.