3 Words You Never Want to Hear at Christmas…

By now you’ve braved the crazy mall shoppers and battled traffic on the 71st street corridor…you’ve shuffled the kids around to all their sports events and recitals and you’re in the midst of attending all the social functions and company parties. Maybe in the coming days you’ll be skipping lunch at work to strategically order the special gifts online during your lunch break or taking a day off from work to finish everything that’s still to be done…

 If you survive the craziness of the next 3 weeks, eventually, on the night before Christmas, it will come down to this … in that special moment after you tuck your kids in bed and you go to the living room and turn on sportscenter and gaze at all those new toys that will bring exuberant joy to your kids….. that special moment when your spouse leans down and gives you a kiss and whispers in your ear….“there’s a few gifts that Santa left that have a special set of instructions”… and you hear 3 simple words you never want to hear at Christmas… “Some Assembly Required”

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not that I don’t want my kids to have that special bike …it’s the process of putting it together —-of checking online at 2am for more instructions and trying to call the 1-800 number for questions and replacement parts…of looking for Band-Aids for the wounds I inflict on myself as I attempt to make my children oh so very happy… let’s just say Christmas cheer begins to drain from my face and a strange tension feels the room….

Over the years I’ve had some long nights trying to assemble a variety of toys….

A Barbie Motorized VW Beetle, a rocking horse, a tricycle, numerous plastic play kitchens, train table, a basketball goal…you get the idea… You see… it just doesn’t come natural to me… I have to get geared up…..I’m not very handy and Stephanie ends up frustrated with my half-hearted attempts as I take a break to watch sportscenter…. I mean, seriously, the instructions are almost unintelligible:

“Take the decibar and connect it through the frontal assembly aperture to the pendent rod bracket flange of the left ratchet mount, using continelle bolts and nut retainers, as shown.” 

The “as shown” is a nice touch…just when you hit a sentence that no living human can follow, they throw in “as shown” to indicate that any idiot can do it in 30 seconds or less. Even if you get through all this, there will be a soul-destroying final instruction, intended to make you take the whole thing apart and accept defeat: “Warning: All shaft springs, before connection to right drive slip coil units, must be rubbed counterclockwise with clear detergent, or toy may self-destruct during second use.” This is known as the time bomb at the end of the instructions. In addition to the time bomb rule, it’s important to know that wherever you start in the instructions, it’s the wrong place.

Step One, which naive parents consider the first step, tells you to put the pedals together, attaching them to the previously constructed pedal rod unit. Naturally, the pedal rod unit cannot be put together until the shaft spin-out retaining lever of the central steering assembly is built first, and so forth. The gist of this is that if you start with Step One, you are beginning way too late in the instructions, and you will never finish.

Somehow by the end of the experience of assembling a toy… there’s a moment where everything “clicks” and I say “now I understand”…but it only lasts for a fleeting moment… I have a sneaking suspicion that as parents get more intelligent, the toymakers take it on as a challenge to raise the confusing language in their instructions. So, in the future, no matter how well we educate our children, they will not be any better at this than we are. Some Christmas Eve in the year 2025, my son, Garrison, will be scratching his head as he looks at the assembly instructions for the toys for my grandchildren.

It preserves the legacy we pass on to our kids…

As Garrison stands there in a quandary, I’ll just lean back in the recliner, sip my hot chocolate, and tell him that back in the day, I always started with a good detergent bath for the unassembled shaft springs and continelle nut retainers. Then I’ll smile and think, It’s not my problem now….

This Christmas when you are assembling the gifts for you children, I hope you’ll think of this blog and find spiritual meaning in this special time… I’m convinced God speaks through everyday events in our life in profound ways.

Here’s a reality to consider: Our lives come with a label–Some Assembly Required…We’re broken and in pieces….All of us have a fallen sinful nature that has drastically impacted our life. We are in the most “joyful” time of the year….. tense and overscheduled …trying to spin and catch up….sounds vaguely familiar to an ancient family to me…

Just think about Mary and Joseph’s situation…. Mary and Joseph were not affluent. Joseph and Mary were young adults with no experience…They had nowhere to stay in Bethlehem…No clear plan…and in the midst of all this Mary’s labor starts….

Life was not put together for them in a neat package….life was in pieces…..

Steps were involved in preparing Jesus so that He fulfilled all that had been said about Him… As we look at this story with fresh eyes we can see how God worked in this nativity story to bring about the fulfillment of the Messiah…but we can also see how He’s working in our lives to fulfill our destiny.

  • It all starts with a promise…

Angels supernaturally declared the pregnancy to Mary and Joseph… Shepherds heard about the birth and came to see for themselves and shared their story with Mary and Joseph… Life was full of God’s promise in Mary and Joseph’s and Jesus’ life… Several times in the story it says that “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.” And  “Mary and Joseph were surprised” at what was said about their son…At birth… in the temple as an infant…at 12 years with the religious leaders…. God was declaring His promises for Jesus over and over again.

  • There’s always a faith journey…

Each time in the Luke 2 narrative after a promise there was not immediate fulfillment…Mary and Joseph were forced to move….Jesus grew up like any other child…..Jesus learned a trade….You wonder if Mary had days where she questioned how everything was going to really happened that had been prophesied… She was probably saying in her heart —“God, I don’t understand how this is going to work”

  • And steps toward maturity…

Several times in the gospels we hear of Jesus growing and developing in his mind, spirit, and body. As an infant…“There the child grew strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on him.” After his experience with the teachers of the law at the age of 12….“And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.” At each step of his life, I’m sure Mary was wondering when the promises would be fulfilled.

  • Then there’s fulfillment

Finally, Jesus entered the ministry at 30 and then in a blur after 3 short years, Mary found herself at the foot of the cross where her Son was being crucified…. I can imagine all the thoughts that raced through her mind…back to the prophecies the visit with the angel…the shepherds…the wisemen….She stood there as she heard her son say, “It is finished”.… and experienced the longest days of her life following the death of her son…. The dream and promise had faded with the harshness of a violent death… She was screaming “I don’t understand this”. But ultimately God’s fulfillment was complete and Jesus rose from the dead…. Imagine how Mary felt as she realized the promises had been fulfilled…. I’m sure her thoughts went to how God truly fulfilled his promise and her doubt and confusion faded and she was able to declare: “Now I understand….”

We worship a risen Savior…..We worship the Messiah….

In our life there’s “Some Assembly Required….”

Just as in the story of the nativity… our lives are in process… We have a promise from God, but it’s not created in an instant… just like the toys at Christmas……there’s a series of steps that God leads us through to bring us to fulfillment….in His perfect time… as we reflect on our lives and how he has led us…we will come to the place where we can declare, “Now I understand…”

I don’t know where you find yourself this Christmas season. I do know that this is a difficult time of year for many of us as we struggle with the stresses of the season… I encourage you to hold on and continue to trust in God’s promises. He’s got a plan… and some day, “we will understand”… Just remember there’s Some Assembly Required… maybe those words aren’t so bad after all. 

[Portions of this blog related to toy assembly were excerpts from an article by John Leo, titled “Any fool can put together a vigilante doll? Think again” Published in US News and World Report 12/19/99]

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