The trees are turning. Invigorating cool air has spilled across the land. Families are getting ready for Thanksgiving. Some prepare for children to come home. Others make plans to travel. Thoughts turn to turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, pumpkin and pecan pie. Football is in the air and the Cowboys are finally winning again. I like Thanksgiving and the American traditions that go along with it. This year we are sharing Thanksgiving with our International students from South Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and China.
Thanksgiving is special to the American experience. From the time we are children, we are taught to remember the Pilgrims who feasted with their Indian friends in 1621, giving thanks for their survival in the new world. Children in elementary schools still walk out on stages wearing flat brimmed pilgrim hats and painted faces to re-enact the first Thanksgiving in front of adoring parents.
George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789. But the official annual holiday began in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day for giving thanks. When he issued his proclamation our nation was embroiled in Civil War. Young men by the thousands lay dead on the battlefields. Families were gripped with grief. But a wounded nation found solace for its soul by seeking a grateful heart.
In times of prosperity and want, in times of war and peace, throughout the Great Depression and our most recent Great Recession, we have paused as a nation on this final Thursday of November to remember and to be thankful. For this one day, at least, we make sure that the homeless and the hungry are fed. On this day, we lay down our tools and gather around tables with those whom we love the most. We are not burdened with the buying and giving of gifts. We simply pause to enjoy one another and the goodness with which God has blessed us.
Nothing is more important than cultivating a grateful and thankful heart. We all experience blessing and loss. God sends his rain on the just and the unjust. The faithful and the unfaithful must weather the same storms. We all experience life and love that we do not deserve. We will all suffer disappointment, injustice and pain. Illness will come. The loss of loved ones will come. The same circumstances sow the seeds of bitterness and resentment, thankfulness and gratitude. The former leads to death. The latter leads to life.
The Bible is clear about the importance of thanksgiving. The Psalms are filled with thanksgiving and praise. Jeremiah envisioned desolate Jerusalem restored with gratitude saying: “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’" (Jer. 33:11). Paul wrote, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6).