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Stand up?

But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.

St. Paul had arrived at Thessalonica in the winter of 49, around this time of year. Paul had just struggled mightily in Philippi. His rights as a citizen were violated and he was mistreated and now ended up in Thessalonica.

Unfortunately, Paul did not have it much better in Thessalonica. He was forced to leave in the face of severe opposition. Yet his time there was blessed. He founded a fledging Church. On the down side, he didn’t have time to fully teach the members of this young Church. After leaving, and meeting Timothy in Athens, he sent Timothy back for a check-in visit.

The letter to the Thessalonians, authored in about 51, two years after he had to leave, was intended to offer support and learning to this young Church, and to reassure it in the essentials of the faith.

A vital, moment in a young (or even not so young) life comes when we are confronted with that life altering choice. Do I turn left or right? Do I go forward or turn back? Do I check out and slink away, or do I stand up with my head held high? Jesus put that choice to us. Paul put it to Thessalonica. We are asked in our youth, and we are asked today – How will we decide?

Today we enter Advent, the season of waiting, preparation, and expectation. Jesus reminds us of what we are waiting for, preparing for, and expecting. It is His return. Will I be ready to stand up and raise my head at His return? Will I be prepared? Am I even expecting Him or have I checked out?

Paul taught the young Church at Thessalonica and us today about those choices. They are before us because Jesus promised His return in glory. The angels on the Mount of the Ascension attested to it: “Galileans, why are you standing there looking up at the sky? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way that you saw him go to heaven.”

So what are we to do, we in our youth and our not so youth? The Church at Thessalonica took Paul’s advice. They did what was necessary. They lived in constant and urgent expectation. They not only lived it, but also shared expectation so others might be saved. Time to stand up and do likewise.

Expectations.
Realities.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, He found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, the One speaking with you is He.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped Him. Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”

This Lent we continue our focus on conviction and its outcome. Today we are presented with two amazing sets of events.

The Lord speaks to Samuel and sets him off to anoint the new king of Israel. “Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.” Samuel heads to Jesse’s house to carry out this important and solemn deed. We can imagine his sense of excitement coupled with his nervousness. He imagines this strong, sturdy, handsome man, the oil pouring down over his dark hair, his face and beard. Jesse’s oldest comes forward. Eliab – this must be him. A man of lofty stature. God reminds Samuel – “man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

Samuel is confronted, as we are, with the unexpected. None of these men are chosen. It will be the youngest, just a boy.

More powerfully, the Pharisees could not believe what had happened. This dreadful Jesus cured a man on the Sabbath.

They try every which way to discredit Jesus. ‘This man wasn’t really blind.’ They were early conspiracy theorists. ‘Jesus is a sinner – just deny Him.’ If we discredit this ‘holy man’ people will stop believing. They were early politicians. Finally, they ridicule and throw out the man born blind. ‘Mock the believers and no one else will believe.’ They were early manipulators.

Samuel, Jesse, and the Pharisees were much like us, people of expectation. What they expected was what they though they should expect. They failed to perceive God’s promise or His will. They only thought, ‘Surely it must be.’

This is how it was before we recognized and accepted our conviction and before we acted on it. We can hear echoes of our words, ‘Surely I must be…” Fill it in: unworthy, good enough, rich enough, too poor, addicted, sick, male, female, too young or old. Whatever our excuse for missing God’s will for us might have been, once we accepted conviction, and moved to admit it and accept Jesus as our one and only Savior, we moved to reality.

Jesus missed the part where we lifted ourselves above Him or thought we were unworthy of Him. He ignores our expectations to bring us to reality. Through the Spirit He prompts us by conviction to be: His children of light. The reality that matters.