“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32
It’s that time of year when my wallet spends more time outside my purse than snapped shut in it. In fact, I think I am currently in the box-of -the day-club with most of the delivery service vans in our area. It’s Christmas. I’ve saved for this, but every year I am amazed at how much this season really costs. Gifts are not my love language, but I love giving good gifts to my family and friends. I love decorating my house and filling it with the fragrance of freshly baked Christmas goodies. I love festive lunches and shopping excursions ending with dinner somewhere. I love holiday movies with friends, including popcorn and candy. All of this is outside my normal budget, not just my monetary budget but my time and energy budget as well. But it’s Christmas, and Christmas is costly.
Much is written and sung this time of year about the gift of Jesus that first Christmas night in the humble city of Bethlehem. God’s priceless gift of His only Son. I wonder if Mary and Joseph had any idea of just how costly that first Christmas would be. I doubt they even stopped to calculate the cost to themselves before yielding fully to LORD. In fact, Mary’s instant response to the angel Gabriel who delivered God’s message to her was, “May it be to me as you have said,” no strings attached, no cost considered. It took a little longer for Joseph, who thought about potential costs for a short time, but immediately after his angelic appearance in a dream, he “woke up and did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home to be his wife.” Their obedience was costly.
It wasn’t long before the costs of their decision began mounting up. Misunderstood, perhaps ostracized, pelted with jeers and mockery, they nonetheless obeyed. Mary shunned, left to deal with the changes of advancing pregnancy without the advice and comfort of family, Joseph’s dwindling income as other carpenters were given work instead of him, this chosen couple endured in stoic silence depending solely on each other and the faithful God whom they knew had called them. Their calling was costly.
Then came the census. Late in Mary’s pregnancy they were forced to leave their home in Nazareth and travel over 70 miles to Bethlehem to be registered by decree of Caesar Augustus. Most of the village who traveled to the towns of their lineage went in groups, sharing the cost, sharing the journey. But Mary and Joseph, who both belonged to the house and line of David, went to Bethlehem alone. There were many others on the road with them, but rumors of their shame covered them like the fine dust of the desert road, and no one wanted to associate with them. Their donkey was old and laden with their meager supplies, and they were not able to travel fast due to Mary’s condition. Walking beside Joseph for part of the time, or riding the donkey while Joseph carried their belongings, both fell into exhausted and fitful sleep on the rocky ground each night. Their journey was costly.
There was no room for them in the inn, only a shepherd’s stable was available when they finally trudged into Bethlehem, tired and dirty. Together they made the cave has habitable as they could because it was clear that the time had come, and Mary would give birth there. Far from home and alone, in a cold and dark cave, this teenage virgin and her husband delivered God’s most costly gift to the world. Jesus, laid in a manger used as a feeding trough for animals, swaddled in the cloths used to wrap up the sacrificial newborn lambs raised in the nearby fields, attended only by the very shepherds that cared for those lambs – Christmas came, and it was costly.
This Jesus, God’s Son, left His throne in heaven for the feeding trough of sheep. The Creator of the universe took on the flesh of His creation and became a newborn baby who would draw sustenance from the young girl who carried Him in her body for 9 months. He who was All-Knowing and All-Powerful, learned to crawl and walk, possibly in the wood shavings of a carpenter’s shop. The Word of God learned to talk as his faithful earthly parents recited His beautiful Torah to Him. He played with other children, celebrated the Passover and other feast days, and reasoned with the rabbis in His Father’s House. He was obedient to his parents and “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men”. Jesus’s submission was costly.
Then, after 30 years, when the time had fully come, He left Nazareth and was baptized in the River Jordan. “Heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” With those dear words, He began His ministry undergoing temptation in the wilderness from the devil. He was rejected in His hometown, had no place to dwell, and went from place to place, accompanied by 12 disciples chosen by prayer, to proclaim “the year of the Lord’s favor.” He healed diseases, gave sight to the blind, released the oppressed. He spoke in parables, walked on water, fed the multitudes with five loaves of bread and two small fish. He raised Lazarus from the dead, restored life to the widow’s son, overthrew the tables of the money changers in the Temple of Jerusalem, and did so many other things that all the books in the world could not hold them. His ministry was costly.
Three years later, he was arrested, tried, and hung on a cross between two thieves. The perfect, unblemished, Lamb of God, born in a stable for sacrificial lambs, was sacrificed to pay the price for the sin of all mankind. Sacrificed to pay the price for my sin, to redeem me from the slave block of sin and death, and to grant me life eternal with Him. And at that moment, God turned His face away from His Son. His sacrifice unfathomably costly.
Like Mary and Joseph, I seldom stop to count the cost of Christmas. I give gifts of love with time and energy and money. My calendar is filled with dates and calculations to make sure nothing is forgotten, and I don’t overspend. Amid this joyful planning, God reminded me this year of just how costly Christmas is. It is a cost I cannot fully comprehend this side of Glory, a price I could never pay for the Precious Gift I don’t deserve. The gift is Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger; the gift is Jesus 33 years later wrapped in burial cloths and laid in a borrowed tomb; the eternal gift received of my salvation because there is an empty manger and an empty tomb, and Jesus, having conquered death, is now seated at the right hand of the Father. This gift is priceless.
I don’t want to forget, it is Christmas! And Christmas is costly!
Oh Father, let me never forget what Christmas cost You. Fill my heart with gratitude this Christmas and let me respond in obedience to Your Word, sharing the Good News of Christmas willingly, boldly, and without concern for whatever it might cost me. May the reality of Christmas permeate my being with trust and confidence in Your truth, knowing all Your promises are “YES” in Christ Jesus. Let me give freely from the bounty You have given me. Thank You that You did not spare Your only Son but gave Him up for me. Let me celebrate first this year with worship and praise, not just with wassail and gifts, for what else could I ever desire but You?