So much so that we become lost in all the gingerbread, chocolate, and childhood dreams of a fuzzy-faced icon in a red suit.
Yeah, yeah, we all know the true meaning of Christmas. And if you are at all like me, you struggle to keep it all straight this time of year. "No, no, it's not about the presents," I say to myself as I rush into TESCO. "It's about Jesus." But immediately the thought is lost among my lists of things to buy, cookies to make, meals to plan and prepare.
To be honest, I all but failed this year to stay spiritually on track during the chaos of Christmas; that is, until I went to Miskolc and visited the orphanage there on Saturday.
I've done the orphanage thing for many years. But this year was different. It was different because Marko wasn't there.
Marko, precious Marko, passed away at age eight last month.
I really hadn't thought about the void until I walked into the house where he used to live. As I passed through the door, I totally expected to hear his little voice cry out, "Szia, Trudy!" as it always had before. I did not even know I expected it, but it's cold, harsh absence hit me with a sober silence. Sure, there were the sounds of the other kids laughing and playing, but Marko was not there, and I wanted to cry.
I pulled it together as the day's events continued, but a heaviness remained. At one point I saw Philip playing with one of the new little boys in his lap. I saw the little dark-haired boy wrestle and laugh out of the corner of my eye, and for half-a-second I believed it was Marko, at home in Philip's arms where he belonged. For half-a-second, I forgot. For half-a-second, everything was alright again.
Then reality hit. And all that was left was the ominous presence of Marko's all-too-painful absence.
This year has been a year of a lot of death. From young Ben's death of brain cancer to the suicide at the orphanage in the summer, to our friend who lost his father, to Marko, and the flower girl from our wedding.
Loss makes for a sobering Christmas. It pares back the superficiality and forces us to look deeper at the holiday -- to reach out (perhaps desperately) for something more.
And when we reach out for a deeper meaning in Christmas, we discover a baby born to die.
Indeed, there is no superficiality here. No tinsel, no sugar plums. Only the somber reality that, on some level, Christmas commemorates a life coming in the world with one fundamental goal, one purpose. And that purpose was death.
And it would be the most significant death the world had ever known, for all of human destiny hinged upon it. It was a death that would bring grief, just like you and I have known. But it was also a death that ignited life eternal for all who dare ask.
That makes Christmas on one hand a holiday as sober as grief itself, and yet on the other, a true reason to sing, "Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!"
So even if you are grieving this holiday season, you still have a place by the manger because the manger is not so far from the cross. And the cross is just a few steps away from the empty tomb. And that's a reason to celebrate -- especially in a time of loss.