The Cost of Christmas

Dec 26, 2022

It’s after Christmas when the true cost often begins to show up. Perhaps in calories from cookies or candies which morphed into pounds on a scale. Or balances on bank statements registering a smaller (depleted?) savings account. Or the stress of preparations for relatives you were delighted to see come – and go.

Christmas has been costly from the first.

Mary’s reputation and social standing was never the same. Prior to Jesus’ conception, she was a “good girl,” worthy of the pious Joseph. Celebrated by friends and family. Held in honor. Welcomed to ladies quilting bees, knitting gatherings, books clubs, and tea parties. Invited to the homes of her family’s friends with all the attention given a bride-to-be.

After Jesus came, she was a social pariah. Shunned. Whispered about. Held up as a bad example. Her family ashamed. Disgraced became her label. How noble of the pitiable Joseph to marry her anyway and take responsibility for her bastard son.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Hester Prynne,” condemned to wearing a scarlet “A” to mark her adultery and giving birth to a child conceived with her illicit lover, may be the character we have most relatable to Mary. Certainly, our current social mores give us nothing comparable.

Joseph suffered as well. Some surely would have seen him as kind and compassionate in agreeing to not discard his wayward fiancé. Others would have mocked him as a weakling. A chump. An idiot. How could he respond? “But guys, this angel said …”  Sure, Joseph, tell us another tale.

Christmas is tagged with a deeply personal price.

And then there was Herod. A genuine chump, idiot, and weakling. Guilty of adultery many times over. Yet when he learns of the coming of Christ from the wise men from the East, he loses no power, riches, or possessions. He’s not banished from the halls of political power. He suffers no loss – he only inflicts it. On his own people. In unconceivable savagery.

Why did God, who kept the wise men from returning to Herod to tell him where Jesus was living, not prevent them from going to the cruel king to begin with? I don’t know the answer to that. I wonder, however, if it was related to Herod’s actions in calling all the scribes and chief priests together. Hearing the wise men’s story put them on high alert it was possible the Messiah had come. Was alive. Now. Perhaps in their very town.

Three decades later many of these individuals would have still been living – and likely serving as scribes and priests – when Jesus began his Messianic ministry. They would have recalled, just as people in my generation remember 9/11, this singular incident. It would have been a significant event lending credibility to the idea Jesus was the Promised One.

Yet that would come thirty years later. In the meantime, babies were slaughtered. Mothers and fathers grieving for the remainder of their lives. Firstborns. Middle children. The “baby of the family.” Their precious sons – squinty-eyed newborns, crawling infants, wobbly-legged walkers, and curious toddlers learning to mimic every word they heard – ripped from their arms, murdered, thrown aside like garbage, and with no reason except “King Herod’s orders.” Mothers of girls aged two and carried not the burden of loss but of survival. Their burden was the paralyzing combination of relief and guilt.

Christmas is tagged with a heavy communal cost.

Angels serenading shepherds is a glorious part of the story. Suitable for children’s storybooks. Even Mary in a stable can have a certain winsomeness to it. “No room in the inn” was frustrating but would hardly leave a person mourning the rest of their life.

Emmanuel – “God With Us” – is the plot line I love. Evil – “Herod Against Us” – is the plot line I loathe.

The whole Christmas story can never be neatly boxed and secured with a ribbon. Blood stains the wrapping.

Which is why Christmas had to come. Into the world as it is. Not into the world as it was designed. Not in some artificial package of “there’s only peace on earth” but in the realness of life – with its unfairness, injustice, pain, sorrow, grieving, and loss.

Christmas is costly because evil is costly. The difference is God picks up the tab for Christmas, and evil demands we pay its price alone.

Christmas isn’t a day. It’s not even a season. It’s a way of living. Of believing in a God who chose to come into this messed-up world, not a movie-script set, and experience the full measure of human existence. A world where innocent blood is spilt; where reputations are demolished by gossip and lies; where relationships are estranged by misunderstandings and wrongly assigned motives; and where power is abused.

Because only extraordinary love would pay the price for coming into a place like this.

And it's all because you are tagged with a priceless value!


©Stephanie D. Smith, 2022

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