2nd Advent Service
December 7, 2011
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder


                   Ephesians 2:1-10: 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4ButGod, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 

                   Last week, we talked about Christmas through a Christian mother's eyes, and the humorous struggles she had with her four children at Christmas time.  Tonight, I think it's time we give the fathers some equal time.  Here's a story that seems to capture a father's humorous struggles. 

                   There are three words often heard at this time of year that strike fear into the hearts of fathers everywhere. Those three words can crush the spirit of even the most capable Dad.  Those words: “Some assembly required.” 

                   My children have now grown beyond the stage where every blasted Christmas gift they receive needs to be constructed using tools thinner than sewing needles by the skillful, unwavering hands of a neurosurgeon. I cannot tell you how many times I have cursed Santa’s elves – or the blue-vested Toys-R-Us guys – for not pre-assembling the mountains of toys my kids have received over the years. I have the scarred knuckles to prove my point.

                   “Come see what Santa brought us!” our kids would yell when they were very little.  “Daddy, why are your hands bandaged and packed in ice?”  

                    It’s easier when kids are very small. Many of their Christmas toys come pre-assembled.  In fact, many come in one piece. Parents just remove the expensive gadgets from their boxes, make sure all the bells ring and the buzzers sound. Then we put the toys on the shelves because the kids are too busy exploring the empty boxes rather than enjoying the whiz-bang educational SAT improving PBS and pediatrician approved learning plaything we just bought, thanks to a bank loan.

                  “Some assembly required.” That phrase echoes in my head like Edgar Allan Poe’s raven's "Nevermore," or that abrasive duck from the AFLAC insurance commercials.  

                    It’s harder when the kids are at that in-between age where they are too young to assemble toys themselves and too young to be of any help whatsoever.

                  “Hey, pal, please hand me the screwdriver.”

                 “You mean this?”

                 “No. That’s a garden hose. The screwdriver is the long metal thing with the plastic handle.”

                 “You mean that?”

                  “No. That’s a shovel that we use to clean up after the dog. Never mind. Go get Mommy for me now that I’m pinned under this basketball hoop and can’t move.  Tell Mommy that Daddy is losing consciousness.” 

            Now that three of our kids are teenagers and one is an almost-teen, gift giving doesn’t involve Craftsman tools, words under my breath or directions written in Swedish.  The only knuckle scraping I experience now comes from constantly reaching into my back pocket for my wallet. And the only blood loss I risk comes from putting things in envelopes and risking paper cuts.

            “Merry Christmas, Sweetheart!  Here’s a Target gift card to keep along with your Wal-Mart gift card and your Blockbuster gift card!”  

            I know that giving gift cards seem like the lazy man’s way out.  There are times when I look back sentimentally on those past Christmas Eves, where my wife and I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. struggling to follow the directions for assembling dollhouses, bicycles or life-sized Bat caves.  Our hands shook from overwork and from downing two-liter bottles of Diet Coke to stay awake.  Our eyes were tired and crossed from trying to connect too many slots “A” to slots “B”. Then after getting about twenty minutes of sleep the kids would stampede into the bedroom announcing that Santa left behind a mountain of toys, and several empty plastic soda bottles. 

            I do miss the blissful looks on their faces and the loving hugs around the neck from tiny arms. I do miss the excitement that the anticipation of Santa’s visit brings to young children.  I miss the trampling of tiny feet up and down the steps.  But I don’t miss the bruises and contusions and the clanking at midnight that comes after Daddy tripped over the toolbox. 

            The nightmares have stopped but the haunting phrase “some assembly required” still makes me flinch.  It is important to remember, however, that scraped knuckles do heal over time.  And the wonderful memories I have make it all worthwhile.

            For any of us, I think those words, "some assembly required" bring a sense of uneasiness and fear.  We go and buy something from a store that we see all set up and on display; however what we wind up with is a box filled with pieces, screws, and other hardware.  We have no idea what we've gotten ourselves into, until we get home and try to sort it all out.

            Can you imagine what life would be like if being a Christian was like that?  What if God were to tell us, "Okay, I've done my part; now you have to do your part."  We would have absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into, or what we had to do.  What is our part supposed to be, anyway? 

            Back in the days of the early church, there was a false teaching being spread, called "Arianism."  And what was being taught was something we call "synergism."  Synergism is a word that is derived from two Greek words:  "Sun" which means, "together or with," and "ergo" which means, "work."  So according to the Arians, they felt that being saved involved a person's "working together" with God, each doing their own part.

            Of course there are huge problems with this.  The biggest one, is that it places the responsibility of faith directly upon the person's shoulders.  God's work of salvation has been done, but it is up to the person themselves to search this out, to make sense out of it, to apply it to their life, and to generate some sort of self-reliant faith to believe it.  Even with all of this, we would still be in doubt as to whether or not we've done enough on our part, or even if we've got it right.  That's not a comforting thought at all. 

            Thankfully God didn't hand us a box of parts and tell us, "Okay now, it's up to you to figure out how to put this all together."  It wasn't enough for him to create all the parts and leave it up to sinful humanity to complete it.

            For the Christian, God's gift of salvation comes with the instructions, "no assembly required."  There is nothing we have to do or that we can do to have any part of this.  God has done it all, even to the point of giving us the faith it takes to believe this and make it our own.  That's a big part of this gift of love from God himself.           

            There's the story about a young boy who was talking to a pastor.  The pastor asked him, "Son, are you saved?"

            "Oh yes sir!"  he said.  "I did my part and God did his part!" 

            The pastor was concerned with his answer.  "What do you mean by that?" he asked.  "How did you do your part, and how did God do his part?"

            The boy smiled and said, "Oh, that's easy.  My part was the sinning, and God's part was the saving.  I was running away from him as fast as I could go, and he took hold of me and turned me around.  Then he brought me to Jesus." 

            On our own, all we can do is just run away.  We can't do anything to work together with God for our own salvation.  God alone is the one who does the saving for sinners the likes of you and me.           

            God has made it abundantly clear what he has done for us.  The story of our salvation is recorded in the Bible, and encompasses the entire life of Jesus our Saviour.  From Christ's incarnation in the Virgin Mary's womb and his birth in the stable in Bethlehem, to his death on Calvary's cross, we see God's love in action.  And when we see that death and the grave could not hold Jesus, we have the assurance that we will live forever with God in heaven, just as he has promised. 

            In our Bible reading for this evening, the Apostle Paul tells us that salvation is not of ourselves, but it is a gift of God.  This is not by works, not by anything we have said or done, not by doing our part or trying to assemble things ourselves.  It is God alone who has given us this faith to believe what Jesus has done for us, and how he has made it a personal gift to each one of us.

            We can appreciate how those words "some assembly required" can strike fear into the hearts of many people. If you can understand the frustration parents feel while trying to assemble a Christmas toy on Christmas Eve, then you can only imagine the amount of frustration a person would feel if God did things this way. 

            So as we approach the manger in spirit again this year, we can be especially thankful that God has given us our Saviour Jesus, along with the instructions, "no assembly required."  It has all been done for us, and is our gift from him through nothing more than faith alone.