Acts 1:1-14 & John 17:1-12
I remember Christmases with the extended family of my generation and of my daughter’s generation.
Often, when there were lots of kids and youth around there was a time set apart in the afternoon after Christmas lunch and before the men went to sleep on the couches or on the carpet, called ‘Present Time’.
Even the mention of it now somehow creates a knot in my stomach and a raising of my blood pressure.
The scene was one where six to ten kids receive the first of several gifts simultaneously – wrapping paper flying everywhere. Cards are scantily read – if at all – and if it was a toy – it may get up to ten seconds of attention.
But if it was underwear or a T-shirt, or socks the time spent appreciating them was markedly less, or at worst a look of disappointment cast on the child’s face.
In the melé – gifts and the giver were often taken for granted, the more useful and even ordinary gifts were set aside. Ironically, the power-ranger battery operated toy may be used on and off for a few weeks, but the gifts of clothing will be used over much longer periods – sometimes over any months and even years.
Now let’s think about the scene in our two lectionary readings.
In John, the scene is set for the end of Jesus missionary journey. Before he is betrayed and arrested in the garden. Jesus offers up prayers to his heavenly Father – not for his own sake but for the sake of others.
Jesus, in verse 8 says that the disciples have already ‘received’ what he has ‘given’ – the gift of the truth of his purpose on earth.
But now that he is returning to Heaven – the gift of ‘protection’ that he has been given will be transferred to the Holy Spirit who in turn, will use it in the protection of the disciples. [Look also at John 14:27].
Not too many gifts are given that primarily are there for protection – we often don’t give gifts of suits of armour, sun-block cream or anti-shark pulsing devices. This is a gift of not only great value but of utility.
But the world that saw Jesus crucifixion in John’s gospel is the same dark world that we read about with the birth of the church in the Book of Acts, where the disciples [men and women] wait in an upper room – in fear from the authorities – but maybe also in fear for what God has next for them.
The gift now is that of the Spirit – or as John puts it – the Spirit of truth [John 14:17] – something that is a gift that becomes integral to who they are.
Here, as before, there is not a lot of doing by the disciples of this point – the Holy Spirit will do the work of ‘baptism’ with them and while Jesus ascends to Heaven – all they can do is look upward. In fact, the angels present seem to chastise them for their lack of action – when they say ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking at the sky?
It’s time to take that gift – which is now part of them – open it and use it – pray and wait – yes – for a sign [the power of the Holy Spirit] and then go as Christ’s witnesses and messengers – to the locals then further afield and then to the ends of the earth [Acts1:8] – which the Bible and Christian tradition tells us they did.
Whether it was the gift of oratory, mercy, service, healing, prophesy or hospitality they used it.
They had moved from a time of waiting and praying to a time of acting and praying.
What is our mission gift to the local world, the region and then to the world?
Certainly, we are generous financial givers to mission overseas – Samaritan’s Purse, Fistula clinics, Uniting World, Mercy Ships. The age of our people curtails our ability to go ourselves.
Locally, we support scripture in school KBECET, Homeless Hub and St. Vinnies, through our giving but we also physically work through the Men’s Shed, Arts and Crafts, Friday Friends, Homestead of Hope, ICAN, interdenominational public events, etc.
In wider Australian mission work – we perhaps are a little less obvious although financial support for Frontier Services is evident, as is Janice’s work as an Ambulance Chaplain, and mine as a Disaster Recovery Chaplain.
We each have a role to play – and maybe even to extend our current role in mission – we have all been given the gifts of the truth and the Spirit and then we are given individual Spiritual gifts [as it says in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12].
As the book of Acts opens, Luke makes his address to Theophilus – maybe not a person – for Theophilus means friend of God. As Christians we should all be able to say that we are friends of God.
But what sort of friend is it that stands by, simply waiting with an unopened and unused present. What sort of friend wastes the love of the giver by under-utilising that gift, glossing over it or moving on to the next one, or envying the other’s gift.
Let’s think of that wrapped gift and card from God that sits in the corner in that Christmas Day scene. Is it noticed? There is a card from our Heavenly Father that says ‘I love you – Robert, Pam, Betty, Rosemary, Viv and Ruth’. The present is wrapped with the colours of the rainbow [a promised and covenant in itself]. Inside the gift is a gift – one to cherish, Yes; but more importantly one to use – one that becomes in time a gift to others.
Indeed the gift becomes the ‘presence’ of God.