Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Thoughts Delivered This Morning

I have to preface this and every Thanksgiving sermon of mine with the disclaimer that, for me, Thanksgiving is an adopted feast day. That’s a natural enough admission from one who grew up in another land, but it pays to be honest! Yet it has become my most favorite of days, without the pressures and intensity of Christmas and Easter, and the razzmatazz of the Fourth of July. A day to spend time with family and friends, to enjoy company and cuisine, and to try to do so simply, and in a genuine spirit of Thanksgiving. In this respect Thanksgiving Day had adopted me as much as I have adopted it. It is a perfect example of mutual agreement!

Yet I am disappointed, not so much by the folklore behind the feast, and it is folklore, but by the vulgarity which has been injected into what is the most dignified of acts; and also by the insistence by many that Thanksgiving is purely secular in nature, and that any notion of God ought to be avoided in favor of over-eating and football on the TV. Their argument against religion falls at the first hurdle. And the second. For those early settlers, whoever they were and wherever it took place, certainly offered prayers for their very deliverance and survival. And when the observance of Thanksgiving became a part of national life, the intention, given by presidential letter, make the nature of this feast day explicitly clear.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

So began the Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. He was referring to the natural blessings of this land, as well as the diversity of industry and commerce that had sprung up, and multiplied despite the challenges of Civil War, international aggression and divided communities. And a balance had been restored:

… Peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Things were well and prospering, and the recovery from the years of conflict was under way. And Lincoln was able to stop and consider the past, present and the tentative future, and glimpse a greater power at work.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

Gracious gifts of the Most High God. And so the simple response to those gifts must be thanksgiving. Yet not merely on an individual level but as a people, a nation. He insisted:

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

And therefore, the invitation to do just that had to follow.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And that brings us, down the year, to this day. This wonderful day. This day when we look around us, and express our thanks for all the blessings that we have received – as many, and as one.

I feel sorry and disappointed for those whose moment of thanksgiving will depend on the touchdown, or the size of the turkey, or the sweetness of the pie. I would not begrudge them any of these things, but if that is all it means then I fear greatly for culture and civility.

Rather I encourage all people to read their history books, and learn from the wisdom and insight of so many who have shaped this country, and built its foundations.

Of course we will celebrate this day. Many tables, many foods, many languages, many family traditions – but with one heart and voice… Let us make Thanksgiving to God. Then, and only then, can we celebrate in whatever way we choose.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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