Some Assembly Required
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 1:1–1:14
The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Day
December 25, 2009
“Some Assembly Required”
Recently this came through email and made me chuckle: “Maybe you have heard the story about the parents who had a great idea for their children's special Christmas gift. They had ordered a kit from a catalog to make a treehouse. Late on Christmas Eve, as the mother and father began to assemble the pieces, they discovered to their dismay that while they had received the plans for a treehouse, they had been sent the materials for a sailboat. A few weeks later, in response to their letter of complaint to the company, they received this reply: ‘While we regret the inconvenience this mistake must have caused you, it is nothing compared to that of the man who is out on a lake somewhere trying to sail your treehouse.’” Sometimes there’s way too much assembly required: the pieces might be there, but they’re for the wrong thing, or the directions don’t make sense, or there is a part that’s missing. And then we call the customer service number only to go through endless menu options and never actually speak to a real person. In frustration, we may pack up that special Christmas gift and put it back in the box because it just isn’t coming together.
On this Christmas Day, the good news is that the gift of God’s Son, Jesus, comes to us fully assembled. In that Gospel lesson for Christmas Day, we are told: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). When all is said and done, Christmas doesn’t depend on us, but on God. Without realizing it, we may fall into the trap of thinking that Christmas depends on us – getting all the cards sent out on time, making sure we find the right gifts for the right people, baking the special Christmas goodies and decorating the house. All of these things are stamped with “some assembly required.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of these things. They can really add to the festivity and joy of the season, but if they squeeze out the Christ of Christmas, replacing the Gift fully-assembled with things like guilt and obligation, worry and frustration, then something’s wrong with this picture.
We live in a world where lots of things come with some assembly required. Some would say this applies also to matters of faith, and understood properly this is true. Baptized into Christ Jesus, each one of us is called to take responsibility in our own lives to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). This comes about as we follow Jesus and grow in him through worship, learning, fellowship, service and witness. But it all begins with what God has done, not what we do. Christmas is not about our reaching up to God; it’s about God coming down to us. Kelly Fryer explains what this means in the book, Reclaiming the “L” Word: Renewing the Church from its Lutheran Core (Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 2003):
“…he was a visiting professor on campus my first year of seminary. And, forgive me, he was just not holding my attention on this particular day. It was a beautiful day on campus and I wanted to be outside playing. Instead, I sat in the amphitheater with my classmates, listening to a lecture about some long-dead theologian. I was bored. And I don’t think I was alone. He must have known that we weren’t listening because he suddenly slapped his notebook shut and stopped talking. He wasn’t going to waste one more breath on us. But, before he left the room, he picked up a piece of chalk and went to the board. He drew a gigantic ARROW, pointing straight down, stood back, and said “If you understand that, you understand everything you need to know about what it means to be a Christian… who also happens to be a Lutheran.” And then he left the room. We just sat there staring at it, this enormous, stark ARROW pointing straight down. And then I thought the most logical thing I could think, given everything that had just happened, “He thinks we’re all going to hell.” The next time we gathered for class, he began by drawing that same arrow on the board. This time, as he began to speak, he had our full attention. “Here’s what this means,” he said. “God always comes down. God always comes down. There is never anything that we can ever do to turn that arrow around and make our way UP to God. God came down in Jesus. And God still comes down, in the bread and in the wine, in the water and in the fellowship of believers. God ALWAYS comes down” (pp. 29-30).
My friends, this is the “good news of great joy which shall be for all people” (Luke 2:10) that the angel brought to the shepherds on that first Christmas night. It’s still good news of great joy for us today. This good news of great joy is about God coming down to us in the form of a helpless baby. Perhaps this is the only way that God could actually come to us. Because we could not and cannot approach Almighty God, the holy and righteous One who made heaven and earth because of our sin, he instead comes down to us. We can no more draw near to God on our own than we can draw near to the sun that blazes in the sky – the burning power and light would totally consume us. Knowing that we are but dust and ashes, Almighty God comes down to us in the Babe of Bethlehem. Any assembly that is required is fully put together in Jesus, the Word made flesh. Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth. Amen.