(November 25, 2009)
Thanksgiving is a chance to gather with loved ones and share in a time-honored American tradition. For some, it is an excuse to stuff themselves with turkey and football. For others, it is a special time of “giving thanks” for blessings in their lives.
One may ask, “thanks to whom?” Well, thanks to God, of course. Never before has the question been difficult to answer. Perhaps we should consider that America's blessings of prosperity, freedom, justice, peace and opportunity. They are gifts from a mighty and gracious God. These days, however, the preeminence of God may look more like a matter of opinion.
Clearly, this was not the Pilgrims' view. They had come to this land in 1620, not to escape God, but to find Him in His fullness. They bowed their heads in acknowledgment of His power and grace. To
|them, He was the one and only truth.|
|In front of them was a desolate wilderness in a harsh Massachusetts winter. Behind them was a vast ocean that separated them from the rest of civilization.|
Before starting their new lives, they made a covenant with God written in the Mayflower Compact. They had come to form a colony for the “glory of God.” In return, they would receive His protection and blessings in this new land. That bond, of their faithfulness and His blessings, would be the key to their survival.
After the first harvest was completed in 1621, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer, and so the holiday was born. During a period of drought in 1623, a day of fasting was changed to thanksgiving when during their prayers it began to rain.
They understood what gratitude to the Almighty is about. “Instead of famine, now God gave them plenty,” Gov. Bradford wrote, “and the face of things was changed to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.”
An informal custom evolved in New England over the years of annually celebrating thanksgiving after the harvest. In 1863, President Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as an official national day of Thanksgiving.
Like the Pilgrims, President Lincoln believed America's prosperity was not the result of our own making. “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things,” he wrote. “They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
Lincoln asked Americans to set aside time “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” We would give thanks for the blessings God had granted us, “solemnly, reverently and gratefully . . . as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.”
Lincoln's words might seem a bit old-fashioned today. No doubt, some would argue they violate the separation between church and state.
Yet, in millions of homes across the nation, people will still thank the Lord for many gifts; for health and good fortune in the year gone by; for the feast on the table and the companionship of loved ones; for living in America.
The Bible says in Deuteronomy, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”
Living in a land of freedom, and the prosperity it makes possible, is an extraordinary gift. By the grace of God, America is a society in which more people enjoy more liberty and more prosperity than has ever been known at any time and anywhere in history. There is no better time than Thanksgiving to express our gratefulness for these blessings.