My husband Marc and I did our Christmas shopping a little earlier this year, which for us means shopping a week before the Fed-Ex cut-off dates rather than a few days before. But I still had a few things left that I wanted to order from Amazon for my daughter and her husband, and I really wanted to have them delivered in time to wrap and send together with some other presents. So, I finally took Amazon up on their offer of a free month of Amazon Prime, because one of the benefits is that you get free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase. I have to tell you, I love this service. But I don’t appreciate it just because it’s convenient and, for the next couple weeks anyway, free. I appreciate it because it has something to tell us about what God offered us on that Christmas night so long ago.
For hundreds of years before that eventful night, God’s people had been waiting. They had been waiting for God to do something to free them. The poor were looking for freedom from those who were exploiting them. Many were looking for freedom from foreign oppressors, who had either taken them into exile as slaves, or invaded their land and stayed on as hated occupiers. The prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the others—had the job of warning the people about how their own sinfulness contributed to what had happened to them. That was the bad news. But the prophets also had good news—that God would not abandon them, that God would redeem them, that God would save them—not just from their political slavery but from the faithlessness that had led them into spiritual slavery. The problem was, the prophets couldn’t give them a delivery date. They just had to wait.
But in God’s own time, God decided that the sinfulness in human beings just makes it impossible for us to free ourselves from the barriers that keep us from being close to God—our pride, our fear, our self-centeredness, our attraction to the things of this world that may temporarily satisfy us but always leave us with a sense of longing in our hearts. We long for purpose and for meaning. We long to be free of the things that bind us and limit us. But we can’t seem to find that freedom on our own. And so, two thousand years ago, God decided that the time of waiting was over. God came into the world, literally “in the flesh,” to show us what it means to live in tune with God’s will for us and the world. The tiny baby named Jesus—Emmanuel, God-with-Us—would show us how to live a life of freedom—free to fully experience God’s love for us, free to fully love God and others.
That’s the good news. But there is even better news. This gift is offered with no waiting! There is no line in front of the stable door. We don’t have to wait a week or a day or a minute to receive God’s gifts of grace and peace and hope and love. On that first Christmas Day, God held out this gift to us and invited us to take it, in the form of believing in Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer. We are invited to come and kneel before the manger, and accept the precious delivery that we find there—no waiting required.
When I made my first Amazon Prime purchase, I got to the check-out page. There I found the free two-day shipping as promised. But, I also could choose free four-day shipping, or free seven-day shipping. This was puzzling to me at first! Why would I choose to wait four or seven days when I could have what I needed in two? Why would I choose to wait any longer than I had to? This is the question that we should ask of ourselves this night. God has given us a great gift, with no waiting. Why would we want to wait any longer than we have to to receive it?
And yet, we do wait. We put off accepting the gift, and the reasons we do are as varied as we are. But when we choose to wait, we are missing out on so much. Each day we wait is a day without the deep and lasting peace that we sorely need to help us in these turbulent times. Each day we wait is a day without the hope we have in Jesus—hope that puts the difficulties and challenges of this world in a whole new light. Each day we wait is a day where we do not feel the strength and confidence that come with knowing ourselves to be loved absolutely—a love that is steadfast beyond any human love, one we know that we can count on in every circumstance we find ourselves in.
So why would we wait? I figured out why Amazon lists the longer wait times. It’s not to let people who have already signed on a chance to choose a longer wait. It’s to let people who haven’t signed on know that something better awaits them, and that all they have to do is say yes to it. It’s not so different from how we might approach the gift that God has for us. There are many people in the world who don’t know that “no waiting” is an option with God. But there are also many who think they don’t qualify for God’s “no waiting” plan.
Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you’ve thought that to accept God’s gift, you have to wait until you’re a better person—more loving, more forgiving, more generous. Maybe you think that you need to wait before accepting God’s gift—until you graduate from school, get a better job, become a better partner or parent, kick that habit, break that addiction, get out of that bad relationship, pray more and sin less.
But God doesn’t want you to wait. God meets us where we are, just as God met the shepherds, who came straight to the stable from who knows how many days and nights wandering through the wilderness, taking care of a bunch of animals—dirty, smelly, dressed in their everyday work clothes. God asks only that, like the shepherds, we come to the stable with our hearts open, to see the thing that has happened, ready to receive God’s gift.
Before I signed up for Prime, I only went to Amazon when I had an order large enough to get free shipping. I’d wait until I accumulated what seemed significant enough to warrant a visit to the web site. But now, I find that I go there for all kinds of things—a package of pens, a pair of gloves, a DVD. The small things get the same attention as the big things. And this is what happens in our relationship with God, too. Once we have accepted God’s gift, we grow in our relationship with God. And we find that we want to connect with God more and more often—not just for the big things like illnesses and grief and all the other crises that distress us. We begin to go to God with all the little things, too—to say thank you for the little blessings that we experience from moment to moment, to say we’re sorry when our weakness gets the better of us, to ask for what we need just to get us through the next day or the next hour of the next five minutes. Once we know and accept that there is no waiting with God, we just naturally turn to God with whatever is on our hearts, at any time of the day or night.
In a few moments we will light candles and quietly sing of that silent night long ago when God announced that our waiting had come to an end with the birth of the Christ Child. The acolytes will come to the end of each pew. If you are sitting at the end, you’ll tip your candle to meet the acolyte’s. Then you’ll hold your candle upright, while the person next to you tips his or her candle into yours. After you light your candle, you are invited to join in the singing of “Silent Night.”
On that silent night so long ago, God offered us the ultimate “no waiting” plan. Don’t wait to turn to God and say, “Yes, I want what you are offering me.” Don’t wait to accept the gifts God has offered—peace, love, hope, forgiveness, acceptance, joy, and eternal life in the company of God through our faith in Jesus. Come to the stable, where there are no lines. Come to the stable, where God has a delivery ready for you to receive. Come to the stable, where there is no waiting. Amen.
~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young