“Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the
lights in the heavens.” v. 17
Many years ago I dated a man for a short time. For Valentines Day that year he gave me a little stuffed bear with a white round belly and red ears. Now some women would think that is cute but stuffed animals have never done it for me, not even when I was little did I like stuffed animals. Dolls yes, but not stuffed animals. So when I received his gift my innards said, UGH but the words out of my mouth of course were gracious. We didn’t know one another very well.
After he left that evening I looked at the bear more closely. I opened the tag that was stapled to his ear, the tag that identified the ‘To’ and the ‘From’. Next to the ‘To’, in feminine handwriting, was this man’s name. And, next to the ‘From’ was the name Sheila with a small x and o, a kiss and a hug!
That was the last time I saw him…and the bear. This gift revealed his absentmindedness and to me it was worthless on several levels. My advice is that if you are a regifter, check twice the item to be regifted for any signs of previous ownership. Regifting can be a tricky business not to mention the ethical levels of giving to cut through before actually passing the gift off to someone else.
But who doesn’t like a gift? Unless you are some sort of curmudgeon, most of us love to receive gifts. I do! Mostly! Some of the best and most perfect gifts that I have received have been unexpected and random, nothing that I ever thought I would want or need. A salad spinner. Rocks from Lake Louise and Banff in Canada. Even oil for my car. And yet these gifts made me happy as a clam buried in the sand in salty Long Island Sound.
Today I want to focus on one small part of our scripture passage because it seems to fit perfectly for our final beach service at end of the summer. The rest of the passage we will deal with on another day because it gives us a bunch of advice or rather encouragements, which no doubt are good and needed, but not on a summer’s day at Compo.
You see the Epistle of James sounds more like ‘life’s little instruction book’ telling us how to live and treat others rather than giving us an accounting of Jesus life or beautiful passages of Christology like we find in the Gospel of John. Some scholars have coined James as ‘Christian wisdom literature’ like the book of Proverbs with ethical teaching and admonitions. Faith, for the author of James, means action! “Obey God’s message, don’t fool yourselves by just listening to it….God will bless you if you listen and obey, not listen and forget.” Faith, if taken to heart, can transform lives.
Yet before all of that the author of James claims that, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens.” James knew all to well that carving out a Christian life for people who were scattered throughout the Mediterranean world because of persecution would be extremely difficult. His words are a reminder that all good gifts come from God even in a time of deep distress when your faith will be tested beyond its limits, there are still gifts to accept that have come our way. It is in the recognition of that gift that we find grace.
God’s gifts just aren’t as tangible as we may recognize, want, or need. God’s gifts come to us in unexpected ways and in unpredicted means sometimes. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote a book entitled ‘Gift from the Sea’, first published in 1955. As a way to understand her life she wrote essays that corresponded to different types of seashells that she had found. These shells she thought of as gifts because they brought her insight and understanding about her life. In the recognition of these shells as gifts from above she found solitude and simplicity.
I can’t help but think that coming to Compo Beach for worship is a gift in itself. We breathe in the sea air, we dig our toes into the warm sand perhaps you’ve even stayed afterwards to walk and pick up some seashells yourself. Is this not truly a gift from God to feel the spirit brushing across your face with the breeze?
Have you not gained some extra insight into your life that maybe you wouldn’t ordinarily have sitting in a sanctuary? What gifts has the summer brought you that you have recognized? What will you take with you into the fall as a reminder that God’s grace and peace is the only gift worth accepting fully and unconditionally?
And of course the greatest gift from God for us is the gift of Christ Jesus. Because of his birth we are assured that life is good and it holds all of the potential in the world for us. That’s what any birth does for us. It creates hope, joy and affirmation that the world really is good and that God really does care for us and the world around us. Creator God, creating God.
Because of Jesus’ living we have been shown a way to negotiate this troubled world. We have been shown that to love one’s neighbor and God and in doing for others will enhance your own living and appreciation for the other. His living embraces the fundamental work of Christian living, hearing and doing the work of God.
And in Christ’s death we are given the opportunity to see life anew. Loss does not have the final say, we can envision possibilities and see anew life that can emerge. That is what resurrection is all about. Yes, Christ is a gift that God has given us. He is a gift worth accepting.