(A) Introduction.

In the Authorised Version this text has a lovely ring to it: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. I briefly studied this Scripture in my series on James - See James1v13to18: Testing and temptation to sin. In this meditation I am going to use it to draw out some lessons appropriate for the Christmas season. There are four questions I want to ask.

(B) Do we enjoy God's gifts?

In November I went on holiday to the Lake District with my friends John and Marion Skull. They had the offer of free accommodation and invited me to share it. On our first day we had morning prayers together and the reading from, 'Our Daily Bread,' was entitled, 'Gifts without guilt'. John thought this was very apposite. Karen and April left central Russia and travelled to attend a retreat in Tallinn, Estonia. An extra cost of $600 was incurred because of diverted flights in bad weather. Kara felt guilty about leaving her husband behind to care for the children and run their ministry. The additional expense added to her guilt. Kara e-mailed her husband explaining why she was finding it difficult to enjoy the retreat. Her husband replied with some valuable advice: The Father loves to give good gifts to his children .... He has given us gifts to be enjoyed - and a time to enjoy them. And this time, for you, is now. Don't worry - sacrifice is waiting for you aplenty when you get home.

It is a great shame to spoil a good gift by feeling guilty, embarrassed or under a sense of obligation. I am pleased to say that John, Marion and myself enjoyed God gifts on holiday: very comfortable, free accommodation, good health, beautiful scenery and Christian fellowship.

I hope you enjoy, Jesus, the very best of God's gifts. His mother Mary enjoyed her baby boy. Mother's do. Grandparents do. I met Diane Lord in the post office. She had her grandson in a pushchair. He had a wicked little smile - just like his mother's. I asked Diane if she minded looking after her grandson. "I love it," she replied.

Mary wasn't the only one who rejoiced at the birth of Jesus. So, too, did Joseph, the shepherds, Anna, Simeon, the wise men and the angels. Surely we should enjoy Jesus for all that he has done for us and the way that he has done it.

          Rejoice and be glad! The Redeemer has come!
          Go look on his cradle, His cross, and His tomb.
          Sound his praises! tell the story of Him who was slain!
          Sound his praises! tell with the gladness, He liveth again.

Billy Bray the quaint early 20th century itinerant evangelist used to say: "As I go along the street, I lift up one foot and it seems to say, 'Glory!' and I lift up the other, and it seems to say 'Amen!' and they keep on like that all the time I walk." Billy would also say, "Bless the Lord, I can sing. My Heavenly Father likes to hear me sing as well as those who can sing better than I can. My Father likes to hear the crow as well as the nightingale, for He made them both."

(C) Do we value God's gifts?

On holiday my friends John and Marion taught me a little lesson; they gave thanks at every meal. It is easy in these days of plenty to take our daily bread for granted. God has surely given us many wonderful gifts to make us thankful: life, health, loved ones, providential care, the means of grace and a precious saviour.

It is very sad when someone ignores the potential of a great gift. During my time at Debenham High School it was my misfortune to teach blond-haired Paul. He was a flopper and a sprawler. He found it difficult to write anything because he was generally spread all over his desk. He quite liked videos because he could watch these in a prone position. After showing quite an exciting documentary on Amazonian Indians I asked the class what they liked about their lifestyle. I got the predictable answers: fishing, hunting, a sense of community, parties. Eventually Paul summoned enough energy to raise his arm to tell me what aspect of Indian life he approved of, "They don't have to go to school." Education, a gift of the state, is not something Paul valued! It is something I received that I regularly thank God for.

There is a program on BBC TV called, 'Johnny Kingdom: A year on Exmoor'. In one episode Johnny went to see the man who gave him a video camera when he was very depressed. The camera was his salvation. It gave him an interest and a purpose in life. The potential of the friend's gift was realised and Johnny Kingdom said that he will never forget it.

I wonder if we have fully realised the potential of God's great gift - the Lord Jesus Christ. The children's hymn, 'Who took fish and bread', ends:

            Only Jesus, only Jesus, only He has done this:
            He can change a heart, give a fresh new start,
            Only He can do all this

It is equally sad when someone takes a great gift for granted. I used to teach with Mrs Pearce. I shall never forget what she said to me about her husband: "John, I quickly realised that I had a good husband and I made up my mind to keep him." She never took her husband, Ken, for granted. When this happens in marriage the relationship suffers and increasingly couples are divorcing after 30 or even 40 years together.

There is a grave danger of taking God's gifts for granted. This, in the opinion of the LORD, was what David was guilty of when he seduced Bathsheeba. Nathan said to the king: "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master's house to you, and your master's wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 2Sam12v7and8.

Christmas will be a chore, a burden, a disappointment unless we see it as an opportunity to give God thanks for his unspeakable gift. We need to attend the services over Christmas with the avowed intent of telling God how grateful we are for Jesus:

            Should all the hosts of death,
            And powers of hell unknown,
            Put their most dreadful forms
            Of rage and malice on,
            I shall be safe; for Christ displays
            Superior power and guardian grace.

The gifts we value most are life changing and life affirming. When I was a boy my mother made me write 'thank you' letters for the presents I was given. I always resented writing to great aunts Lilla and Hatty. They invariably gave me socks for Christmas. A 9-year-old boy doesn't find socks in the least life affirming. If it wasn't socks it was handkerchiefs!!

The gift that changed my life was an asthma inhaler. I suffered with asthma terribly as a boy. My mother never took me to our doctor because she had a complex about the medical profession. In the end our village shopkeeper, also a sufferer from asthma, bought me an inhaler. All at once the cruel power of that horrible disease was broken. I no longer lived in dread of asthma - I had something to relieve it.

There may be people reading this who have had a new hip joint, kidney or heart. What life affirming gifts these are! But only Jesus can give a man a new spirit. Jesus changes the whole man. Paul wrote: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. 2Cor6v17. In the words of the hymn:

            I am a new creation,
            No more condemnation,
            Here in the grace of God I stand.

            My heart is over-flowing,
            My love just keeps on growing,
            Here in the grace of God I stand.

(D) Do we share God's gifts?

It is good to share a gift with others. John and Marion shared their free holiday with me. Insofar as Marion looked after us both John shared his wife with me. The story of Ruth is an all time favourite with so many of us. Obed shared God's goodness to him in the harvest with Ruth. He told the harvesters to drop handfuls of corn on purpose for Ruth to glean. Ruth took home some of the parched corn Boaz gave her in the lunch break for Naomi's supper. At the end of the story Ruth shared her baby boy with her mother-in-law. And Naomi took the child, and laid him in her bosom, and became nurse unto him. Ruth4v16. My friend Pastor Hogg told me of an incident that occurred when he and his wife were on holiday. They were sitting on a bench watching the world go by. A woman with a baby boy a few months old sat nearby. The Hoggs were enchanted by the behaviour of the mother and her son. He was an endearing infant. Eventually the mother came over to Pastor Hogg and said, "Would you like to hold him for a little while?" So for a few minutes Pastor, and then Mrs Hogg, shared the pleasure of cradling in their arms the mother's darling son.

Its good to share at Christmas - something of our prosperity and God's goodness to us in providence. My mother used to invite old Mr Dick Clarke to Christmas dinner when I was a boy in Brockley. We didn't lose by it. He was a very amusing character and kept us in stitches.

Do we delight to share our love for Jesus with others? That is why collective worship is important. It is a shared experience and in it we confirm together our devotion to Jesus and our appreciation of all that he has done and is doing for us. It is a bad sign when we start to grudge the time we spend in God's house.

Isn't it wonderful when someone on the media shares their love for Jesus. This happens occasionally on Songs of Praise. A few Christmases ago I watched a charming short program on Silent Night. The program ended with a very plump black lady singing the carol. The tears streamed down her cheeks as she sang the last verse:

            Love is smiling from your face!
            Strikes for us now the hour of grace,
            Saviour, since You are born ...

The black singer shared her love for the Saviour through the tears she shed.

Do we expect more gifts from God?

James reminded his readers that every good and perfect gift came from the Father of the heavenly bodies with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. He uses two astronomical terms that are translated 'variableness' and 'shadow of turning' in the AV. Two common astronomical terms we can all understand are: 'waxing' and 'waning'. James is affirming that God's love does not wax and wan. This is far from true of some folk. They blow hot and cold. For a time they are all over us and then they seem to forget about us altogether. God is not like that. His love is constant. God is faithful. He will not give us less and less as we journey to the Promised Land. Instead he gives us more and more!

Mary received from Jesus more and more as her relationship with him developed. In the manger Jesus was her baby - her pride and joy. At the wedding feast in Cana Mary showed her confidence in Jesus who had undoubtedly helped her with many domestic problems following the death of Joseph. Jesus by the seashore was Mary's teacher. How she must have wondered at the authority with which he taught. On the cross, although she did not realise it at the time, Jesus was his mother's saviour. On the resurrection morn he was Mary's hope - the firstfruit of them that sleep. After his ascension into heaven Jesus became Mary's Great High Priest. When he comes in glory he will be for Mary, and all those who long for his appearing, the resurrection and the life.

As we end this year and move into a new one may the words of the Sankey Hymn be our prayer:

            More about Jesus would I know
            More of His grace to others show
            More of His saving fulness see
            More of His love who died for me

However good Jesus has been to you thus far - the best is yet to be.

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 1Cor2v9.

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