12/24/20 “No Waiting”

A few years ago, it was getting pretty close to Christmas and I still had a couple items that I wanted to get for my daughter and her husband. I really wanted to have them delivered before Christmas, so I decided to take 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’ve had it ever since. I have to tell you, I love this service. I love the convenience, and I really liked getting that  first month for free. But I don’t appreciate it just because it’s convenient. I also 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’d 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 had 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 and economic slavery but from the faithlessness that had led them into spiritual slavery. The problem was, the prophets couldn’t give them a delivery date.  The people just had to wait.

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’s 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 joy and peace and hope and love. On that first Christmas Day, God held out a gift of grace 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 we should ask of ourselves this night.  Why would we want to wait any longer than we have to to receive God’s gift, which is offered with no waiting?

Because, we do wait, and for reasons that vary as much as we do.  There are many people in the world who aren’t aware that “no waiting” is an option they can choose.  But, there are also people who think they don’t qualify for God’s “no waiting” plan.  They think they need to wait until they graduate from school, get a better job, become a better partner or parent, kick the habit, break the addiction, get out of the bad relationship. Maybe you’re one of the people who thinks that to accept God’s gift, you have to wait until you’re a better person—more loving, more forgiving, more generous, that you have to pray more and sin less.

But when we choose to wait, we’re missing out on so much.  Each day we wait is a day without the deep and lasting peace that we sorely need to 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 don’t feel the strength and confidence that come with knowing ourselves to be loved absolutely, with a love that is steadfast beyond any human love, one we can count on in every circumstance we find ourselves in.

God wants you to say “yes” to God’s “no waiting” offer. God wants you to accept the gift of the Christ Child, just as you are, right now.  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.

I came to understand why Amazon lists the longer wait times.  It’s not so people who’ve already signed up can choose a longer wait.  It’s so people who haven’t signed on can see that something better awaits them, and all they have to do is say yes to it.

There’s one more thing Amazon Prime’s free shipping with no minimums has taught me about my relationship with God. 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 go there for all kinds of thing, big and small.  The small things get the same kind of attention as the big things.

This is what happens in our relationship with God, too.  Once we’ve accepted God’s gift, we grow in our relationship with God.  As we grow, 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 or the next five minutes.  Once we know and accept that there’s no waiting with God, we just naturally turn to God with whatever’s on our hearts, at any time of the day or night.

In a few moments, we will quietly sing of that silent night long ago when God announced that our waiting had come to an end with the birth of Jesus, who is the Christ, our Lord and Savior. Ordinarily we would gather in a circle to pass the light of our candles to one another. Tonight, we will still pass the light to each other in a circle, but the light we’ll pass will come from your headlights, and the circle will be made up of your cars, starting with the car in the back corner nearest the sanctuary. When we begin singing “Silent Night,” the first car will turn on its lights. When their lights are on, the next car will turn on theirs, and so on along the back row. When we get to the end of the back row, the front row will pick up the light and continue passing it around the circle until everyone’s headlights are lit. As we pass the light, we’ll sing “Silent Night” together, and if you can stand the cold, I invite you to roll down your windows so we can hear each other singing.

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, joy, forgiveness, acceptance, 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