Thanksgiving: Holiday? Hollow Day? Holy Day?
"If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish." -Deuteronomy 8:19 (NRSV)
By Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr.
My task today is challenging. My desire is to encourage a hunger in you for a Thanksgiving Day unlike any other.
As I look at the ways we mark the fourth Thursday in November, I wonder if we see a holiday, hollow day, or holy day.
Many of us fill the day with so many activities that very little time-if any-is left for giving thanks to God. Yet, on Nov. 11, 1621, the Pilgrims gathered and marked their first anniversary in America as a holy day.
They celebrated a year of plenty, and the people were mindful that it was God who had provided their abundance of food for winter. Three centuries later, the Congress of the United States declared Thanksgiving should be a holiday, and decreed that, on every fourth Thursday in November, the nation should pause and express gratitude to God.
Four centuries have passed, and the Pilgrims' sacred celebration has become nothing more than a hollow day for many people.
In reviewing the history of Thanksgiving, I note it was a day set aside to pay respect to God, who has provided us with food we did not plant and blessings we are not worthy of receiving. That is the real reason for the national special day.
Instead, we squeeze our gratitude in between football games and turkey-and-dressing and, consequently, the day becomes everything but holy.
I urge you to make this coming Thursday special and holy. Permit me to give you three words to carry into Thanksgiving...
Thanksgiving is a time for remembering. Today we are in danger of losing the power to remember. We use home computers, cell phones, and personal digital assistants (PDAs) to store millions of bits of information. We just don't have much need to remember anything. We place trust in our computer equipment and smart phones; we seem almost helpless without them.
However, there was a time when the stories of the great deeds of God and the great happenings in the lives of men and women were kept alive in memory. People remembered those stories; they told and retold what had been written in their hearts.
In Old Testament times, something as simple as a stone or a pile of rocks served as a reminder of a significant event. From generation to generation, the people's encounters with God were kept alive in memory.
Moses, the author of Deuteronomy, tells of the consequences of forgetting. He warns that when we forget God we are in danger of perishing. I have discovered that you don't have to die to perish!
When we remember what God has done, we begin to contribute to that finer and deeper spirit that makes especially meaningful a day such as Thanksgiving.
For Thanksgiving this year, take time to read a story from the Bible or to share with your family a note of joy from the Psalms. Recall how God has guided you and your family through the year. No doubt there have been days of high exhilaration as well as days of deep distress. The Lord has brought you safely through all those days.
The second watchword of Thanksgiving is...
Praise introduces a quality that should never be left out of any Thanksgiving celebration. The Psalmist is always enjoining us to lift our praise to God.
He does so because he discovered that which we must remember: At the center of this dependable and orderly universe, there is a living God, whose love and goodness are our strength and refuge and hope.
That truth makes me want to sing of victory and triumph. It moves me to "praise my Maker while I've breath."
We should never encounter a Thanksgiving morning without wanting to sing and praise God for God's eternal goodness. Add the watchword of praise to your day, and see and feel the difference.
The last watchword is...
Thanksgiving is a time for accepting from God's hand what God has given to us. One of the great weaknesses in our faithfulness is evident in our willingness to give thanks when all goes well, but our inability to extend our gratitude when bad situations occur.
If we experience happiness and peace of mind, we say, "Yes, God is good!" But when life's precariousness unsettles our spirits, when tragedies plunge us into deep despair, then what?
Can you accept all that life contains? Are you willing to place both the good and the bad on the table of gratitude and still give thanks?
Paul declared, "In everything, give thanks!" (I Thessalonians 5:18) He knew that the outcomes we are unwilling to accept from God, may be the very channel through which God ushers forth truth and love.
Put these three words at the centerpiece of your table next Thursday. I guarantee that if you take the time to meet God on this Thanksgiving day, your homes, your families, your churches, and your lives will experience a holy day!