Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year but it’s also often the most expensive time of the year. One report estimates that the average household will spend almost $2500 this season on festive food, decorations, and gifts. Another source claims that only 2% of Canadians kept under their Christmas budget in 2022.
Christmas can be costly. And there’s more than just a financial price tag to this season. There’s often a relational cost, with lines drawn and religious convictions highlighting division and exacerbating family tension around the dinner table. Christmas can also have an emotional expense as the festivities spark loneliness and the remembrance of past losses. This holiday can also take a chronological toll, filling calendars with events, parties, and other time-filling, energy-stealing happenings.
Christmas can be costly. If you can relate at all, maybe it’ll be encouraging to hear that it’s always been that way. The very first Christmas, in fact—when God the Son took on flesh to dwell among us—came at a great cost to everyone involved. That Christ came as a baby took a toll and invited sacrifice.
THE COST OF THE FIRST CHRISTMAS
This morning, I want to consider a few of them, beginning in Matthew 1 with Joseph, the adoptive father of our Lord. [Matt 1:18–19]
Put yourself in Joseph’s place. He’s engaged to Mary, a legal status that, at the time, required a formal divorce to break but also did not allow cohabitation or sexual consummation. Matthew emphasizes this, stating it’s “before they came together” that his fiancee announces that she’s pregnant.
This must have been heartbreaking for Joseph. Not to mention a little concerning; I mean Mary is claiming the Holy Spirit’s father. (As far as alibis go, it doesn’t seem super strong.) This situation would have also been deeply embarrassing for Joseph, his reputation now becoming one of either an incompetent Jew or an incompetent husband.
And yet, Joseph takes the highest road possible. He could’ve taken her to court, probably resulting in her execution but his vindication. Instead, he decides to separate secretly, sparing her as much as he can.
[Matt 1:20–23] Mary’s story is corroborated by an angel, a messenger of God who adds that the child will save God’s people from sin. How is Joseph supposed to process this? God impregnating a girl that’s already been spoken for? A divine home-wrecker! Prophecy fulfilled through a couple of nobodies? A King coming through peasants? It’s all bizarre, scandalous, and unbelievable. And yet, [Matt 1:24–25].
This is all happening to Joseph and, yet, at every turn, he proves himself to be what Matthew declares he is: a righteous man—a godly man, an obedient man—doing the right thing for Mary, the right thing for the baby, and the right thing for God. But it cost him to obey.
Sometimes it costs us to obey God, doesn’t it? To serve others well, to love our enemies, to walk in God’s ways and not the world’s ways. But we obey because we know that, as one scholar observed, “the first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master.” We know we’re either a slave to sin or a slave to Christ. Either way, we’re not calling the shots. But that doesn’t change the fact that obedience can cost us. And it cost Joseph.
The magi’s following
Turn to Matthew 2 and look at the magi. [Matt 2:1–2] Despite the popular song We Three Kings of Orient Are, we don’t know there were three and we do know that they weren’t kings. Instead, these magi were likely priest-philosophers, important in their eastern homeland.
As they studied the skies they spotted a celestial anomaly, a new star, identified it as announcing the birth of the anticipated King of the Jews, and determined to follow it. But that was no small undertaking. For such a journey they would have needed many servants, a long season of preparation, a lot of financing and supplies, and months of travel. It cost them to follow.
Sometimes it costs us to follow God, doesn’t it? To pick up that cross and plod after Jesus, to explore a life of service to his name, a live a life of holiness. Following Jesus isn’t like following someone on social media, where you’re free to take or leave their thoughts and ideas at your leisure. No, following God can, should, and will cost us. And it cost the magi.
Turn now to Luke’s gospel, from Joseph and the magi to Mary the mother of Jesus. [Luke 1:26–30]
While the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, Mary’s wide awake. The text says that she’s perplexed at his message and afraid of his presence. But the angel offers peace, insisting twice that she’s favoured by God. Why? Because of her piety? No, because of what he says next.
[Luke 1:31–33] Mary’s favoured because she’s been selected by God to be his conduit of curse-killing, rule-establishing, promise-fulfilling, presence-bringing, eternity-shaping grace to this world.
Understandably, Mary’s still a bit lost. [Luke 1:34–37] So many questions must have been racing through this young girl’s mind: How can I carry God’s child? What will it be like to birth deity? How am I going to tell Joseph? What’s my family going to say? Will anyone believe me? What will be the consequences? Will I ever recover from such disgrace? Am I dreaming? Is this a nightmare? And yet, [Luke 1:38]. Mary submits herself as an instrument of the Most High God.
One author puts it this way: “You may think that there could be nothing greater in all the world than to have an angel make an announcement like this to you. But can you imagine the awesome responsibility that was placed on Mary? Do you realise the price that this woman had to pay to become the mother of Christ? Later, [in 2:35] we shall see the promise that goes with the birth of the Messiah is that a sword would pierce her own soul. Yet Mary says to God, ‘If that is your will, then I’ll do it’” (Sproul, A Walk with God, 21). In other words, it cost Mary dearly to submit herself to God.
Sometimes it costs us to submit to God, doesn’t it? To say, like Jesus did, “not my will, Father, but yours be done,” to submit to one another as unto God, to submit to governments as unto the Lord, and to submit to Christ as the disciples we are. Submission can be very costly. It certainly cost Mary.
The shepherd’s going
Turn to Chapter 2 and let’s consider the shepherds. [Luke 2:8] While nativity scenes romanticize these characters, in reality, shepherds were often considered dishonest, unclean outcasts and sinners. Here they’re guarding their livelihood from predators, thieves, and other dangers.
[Luke 2:9–16a] Notice that immediately following the angelic concert, these men go straight to Bethlehem, in a hurry. Owners had entrusted their flocks to these shepherds. They were responsible and would be held accountable if anything happened to them. But after hearing the angels, at personal risk, they ran to town. It cost them to go.
Sometimes it costs us to go where God invites us to go, doesn’t it? We’re told to “go and make disciples,” to go and be his witnesses, to go be salt and light in a world that needs both.
It’s much easier to be like Moses who, when called by God said “Why me, Lord?” than it is to be like Isaiah who said, “Here am I, send me!” Why? Because going can be costly. It cost the shepherds.
Scan down to verse 21 and we find a man named Simeon. [Luke 2:21–24] Joseph and Mary, according to the Law of Moses, prepared an offering of two turtledoves or young pigeons. According to Leviticus 12:8, this offering was permitted for those who were too poor to afford a lamb. This is a peek into the financial status of the home of our Lord.
[Luke 2:25–35] God had promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the “Lord’s Christ.” And so, he waited decades, devoted to the Lord, righteous in conduct, anticipating and praying for the consolation of Israel. It seems he was as weary as he was hopeful, because after this young family enters the temple he prays, “Now Lord, you are releasing your bond-servant to depart in peace.” Simeon had given his whole life in anticipation. It cost him to wait.
Sometimes it costs us to wait for God, doesn’t it? To be patient when prayers seem unanswered, to endure times of loneliness and stunted maturity, to anticipate deliverance and rescue, restoration and glorification. Waiting can cost us. It cost Simeon.
One more stop on this tour of the high price tag of the first Christmas. If we just keep reading in Luke 2, we encounter a woman named Anna. [Luke 2:36–38]
Anna had been married for a short time before her husband died. After that, she dedicated herself to serving God in his temple “night and day with fasting and prayers.” Her age shows just how long and laser-focused her devotion to God, God’s people, and God’s chosen nation had been. Not unlike Simeon, but perhaps even more pronounced than Simeon, Anna had given her life to the Lord. It cost her to serve.
Sometimes it costs us to serve God, doesn’t it? To give ourselves, our talents, time, resources, attention, effort, and diligence. To give our prayers and devotion, the best we have to offer for the service of our Lord, his people, and his program.
As I read a couple of years ago, “I don’t serve the Lord so he will love me more; I serve him because he couldn’t love me more.” But that doesn’t mean serving won’t cost me. It cost Anna.
Christmas, the advent of Jesus Christ into the world, came at great cost. It cost Joseph to obey. It cost the magi to follow. It cost Mary to submit. It cost the shepherds to go. It cost Simeon to wait. And it cost Anna to serve. This event did not come cheap. It demanded a great and varied price be paid.
The question becomes, was it worth it? Was it worth the expense? Was it worth the price? What would these characters say if we asked them that question now or when we ask them in glory? What did they get for their sacrifices? What was their reward? Well, they all got to see Jesus.
[Matt 1:24–25] Joseph, for his selfless obedience, became the adoptive father of he who would save the world from sin. He named him, played with him, and raised him.
[Matt 2:11] The magi, because they followed, became some of the first of many who, at the sight of Jesus, bent the knee in worship. They adored him, marvelled at him, and honoured him.
[Luke 1:46–48] Mary, for her humble submission, became the conduit through whom God the Father, by God the Spirit, delivered God the Son to a dying world. She nursed him, reared him, and loved him.
[Luke 2:16–18, 20] The shepherds, for their eagerness to go, were outcasts given the privilege of seeing and announcing the birth of the King of kings. They glorified him and praised God.
[Luke 2:28, 30–32] Simeon, for his patient waiting, was given the blessing of holding Messiah in his arms, calling out to the Father in praise as he kissed the Son on his little head.
[Luke 2:38] Anna, for her tireless service, got to see with her own eyes him for whom she had prayed for decades and decades; the most eternity-shaping answer to prayer that has ever been.
I am supremely confident that if these people were with us today they would all declare, “It was well worth it.”
THE COST OF FOLLOWING CHRIST
Would you say the same? [Luke 14:25–28] Jesus is speaking of discipleship here, not conversion; about following after him faithfully, not about being saved by him eternally. To be saved, while it was costly to God who sent his Son to die is not costly at all to us. The Bible is very clear it is a gift from God unwrapped by faith in Jesus.
But once we’re saved, the price tag is high. We’re called to obey his voice, follow him faithfully, submit to his will, go where he directs, wait for his return, and serve him sacrificially. This isn’t just the cost of Christmas, it’s the cost of being a Christian.
And Jesus himself says, “Count the cost.” It’s a price well worth paying, an investment with incalculable returns, but it’s still a cost we must all be willing to pay.
This Christmas season, as we reflect on the sacrifices made by those around the nativity scene, may we ask ourselves afresh—am I willing to pay the price? Where am I holding back? Lord, root out that unwillingness that I may pray like the poet George Herbert: “For my heart’s desire / Unto Thine is bent: / I aspire / To a full consent.” Lord, I’ve counted the cost and I want to follow you.
Josiah has served the Oakridge Bible Chapel family as one of its elders and one of its pastoral staff members since September 2018, before which he ministered as an associate pastor to a local congregation in the Canadian prairies. Josiah's desire is to be used by God to help equip the church for ministry, both while gathered (edification) and while scattered (evangelization). He is married to Patricia, and together they have five children—Jonah, Henry, Nathaniel, Josephine, and Benjamin.