Gift-giving can lose its meaning. It can become a mere formality. It can become a tit-for-tat exchange. It can become a competition to outdo one another. But we all know that 1) gift-giving is a natural part of life and 2) when we do it well it enriches life deeply. I would add a third point – that when we give gifts well we are reflecting something of the nature of God’s dealings with us. Just as the Lord’s Prayer encourages to forgive as we are forgiven by God, so we give to one another because (and only because) we have first received from God.
Our reading from Ephesians is full of rich theological ideas – being brought to life in Christ, finding salvation in him, being raised up to heaven with him. There’s enough there to fill a good few theological text books!
But let’s not lose sight of this straightforward point: it all begins with God’s gift, referred to here as God’s grace. Gifts need to be received if they are to be real gifts – which is where faith comes in. Faith is our opening of our hands and hearts to receive what God is already offering. But it starts with God’s act of giving.
In the past you were spiritually dead because of your disobedience and sins. 2 At that time you followed the world’s evil way; you obeyed the ruler of the spiritual powers in space, the spirit who now controls the people who disobey God.
3 Actually all of us were like them and lived according to our natural desires, doing whatever suited the wishes of our own bodies and minds. In our natural condition we, like everyone else, were destined to suffer God’s anger.
4 But God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, 5 that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved. 6 In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world. 7 He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus. 8–9 For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. 10 God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.