Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Cost of Christmas

Shoppers across the U.S. said they were planning to spend an average of $431 for gifts this holiday season, down from $859 last year according to the 23rd annual Survey on Holiday Spending from the American Research Group, Inc. The overall average of planned spending is down almost 50% from 2007, and it is the lowest level of planned spending recorded by the American Research Group since 1991.

However, the cost of the items in “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a comical benchmark for analysts, reportedly was up to about $ 86,900, soaring from years before.

To cut back on Christmas spending, proposed ideas include wrapping gifts in newspaper, giving IOU gifts (a note promising to do something nice for someone), handmade cards, custom baked goods or customized calendars highlighting important dates. Some suggested cost-cutting measures also included using LED lights, which use less electricity, and turning off displays during all daylight hours. Hand-made tree ornaments are also a possibility, even using family photos hung on the tree or perhaps draping old-fashioned inexpensive garlands of popcorn. Christmas tree economies were also suggested such as buying only live trees, which can be planted later, or purchasing artificial trees that could be reused for many years.

Whatever the expense of Christmas, many shoppers will be paying off Christmas debts for a long time. Many of these incurred debts have little or nothing to do with the real concept of the first Christmas, which was kneeling and giving gifts to the newborn King Jesus. I wonder how many extra gifts are given to churches, mission organizations or missionaries as a reflection of the eastern wise men who knelt and presented their gold, frankincense and myrrh?

The first Christmas participants all paid dearly, if not in actual money, then in other sacrificial ways. Consider a few of these …

Zecharias and Elizabeth – Zecharias, whose son, John the Baptist, would later publicly announce Christ as Messiah, was struck dumb and deaf for his temporary unbelief (Luke 1:20) that his wife would bear a child. Both he and Elizabeth had to bid farewell to their boy early so he could be alone with God in the desert (Luke 1:80). John himself was beheaded by adulterous Herod for his denunciation of Herod’s sins (Mark 6:14–29).

Mary and Joseph – Mary faced searing criticism as a possible fornicator being pregnant by an unidentified father before she and Joseph lived together as husband and wife (Luke 1:34). Mary traveled twice to southern Israel, first to see Elizabeth and then to Bethlehem in the final stages of pregnancy (Luke 1:39; 2:1-4). The journeys were a total of possibly 210 miles. Simeon’s cryptic forecast of Mary’s broken heart must have cost her peace and calm (Luke 2:34).

Joseph was concerned over an unfaithful fiancée (Matt. 1:19). He gave up sex with his new wife until Christ was born (Matt. 1:25).

Both traveled to Bethlehem some 70 miles from home with the baby's birth imminent. As homeless travelers, they sought a suitable birthplace but bedded down in a cow stall. Later, the young family had to flee at night from Bethlehem, where they had established a home, to Egypt (a trip of about 50 plus miles) until Herod died (Matt. 2:14, 15). Then they had to divert to avoid their Bethlehem home to travel far north back to Nazareth where a quizzical welcome no doubt awaited them.

Demonic and angelic tension must have been felt by the holy family. Revelation 12:4 says that Satan stood before the woman to devour the child at birth. Rough math indicates that there are at least 150 million supernatural created spirit beings if we add at least 100 million unfallen angels (Rev. 5:11) and 50 million who fell with Satan (Rev. 12:4). Satan’s minions were likely marshaled against the multitude of heavenly hosts revealed to the shepherds of Luke 2.

The Shepherds – They were first terrified, and then they sacrificed to travel from their flocks to an obscure stable. I imagine lots of puzzled stares met them when they inquired about an obscure newborn lying in a common feeding trough.

The Wise Men – They paid the price of a two-year trek across hostile areas to worship Christ and offer their valuable gifts (Matt. 1:1–12).

Jesus Christ – Christ Himself experienced the greatest cost. The great Creator (John 1:3, Col. 1:16) voluntarily laid aside the full preferences of His glory to become a human and die for us (Phil. 2:5-8). Christ’s homesickness for heaven is seen in John 17:5. He knew He would not return home before being savagely scarred by our sins. God, the Father, also paid dearly to yield His only begotten Son. As someone once said regarding his human son, “I could give myself, but I could not give my son!”

Christmas was so very costly. Salvation is free, but it is never cheap. The supreme price matches the superb gift in Romans 8:32. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

John 3:16 & 17 eternally stand as the awesome Christmas benchmark of divine cost and sovereign bestowal: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

Each person who paid so dearly is uniquely honored around the world, especially at Christmas. Christian sacrifice should always be counted as an investment, not a loss. When Peter asked about any gain there might be since he and the other disciples had left all to follow Christ, the Lord said that the eternal return would be one hundred fold, which is 10,000% and much more in eternity (Mark 10:30).

Hymnwriter Esther Kerr Rusthoi put it so well:

It will be worth it all
When we see Jesus,
Life’s trails will seem so small
When we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face,
All sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race,
Till we see Christ.

Dave Virkler

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