This is the time each year when the vast majority of Americans curtail their daily routines and gather together with friends and loved ones for Thanksgiving. What are the origins of this celebration and what meaning should it have for Americans today?
Thanksgiving is the combination of two long-standing traditions in American civilization, the joyous harvest festival and the more somber declaration of a day of thanksgiving and remembrance in the midst of some national crisis.
The origin of the American holiday harkens back to the 1621 observation of a thanksgiving and harvest celebration by the Plymouth settlers. The Pilgrims, having survived their first terribly harsh New England winter, had a successful growing season (with critical and generous help from native Americans). Celebrating the fact that their substantial harvest guaranteed that they would survive the coming winter, they held a three-day thanksgiving feast, which included many of their native American neighbors.
We should all take a few moments this Thanksgiving holiday, as we gather together with family and friends, to think of all the many things we have to be thankful for in our nation's life and well as in our own.
Thanksgiving has been part of our national heritage from our Puritan forefathers onward. From the birth pangs of the American Revolution, through the fiery trials of Civil War, to the tribulations of two world wars and beyond Americans have felt the need to pause and thank God for His manifold blessings and to invoke His continued protection and watchcare for our country. And we should always remember that blessings by definition are undeserved and unearned. That is why they are called "blessings."
As a Christian, I want to challenge you to undertake a spiritual exercise this Thanksgiving holiday. If you are a Christian I can guarantee how you can experience personally the blessings of God's Holy Spirit in your life this Thanksgiving. If you are not a Christian you can become one in my faith tradition by confessing and repenting of your sins to God, asking for His forgiveness, inviting Jesus to come into your life as Lord and Savior, and trusting the resurrected and ascended Jesus alone for your eternal salvation.
The Apostle Paul has commanded all Christians to "in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (I Thess. 5:18).
I promise you that when you start giving thanks to God for the blessings in your life, God will keep calling blessings to mind, and you will discover that there are so many more people and things to be thankful for than you had thought or had imagined. Such a spiritual exercise of obedience will fill your heart with ever increasing gratitude and joy. As you are obedient to this apostolic commandment God will create in you an ever more grateful heart, and the grateful heart is the contented and peaceful heart. So this Thanksgiving I pray that His Spirit generated peace will be with, and in, all of you.
And what comes after Thanksgiving? It is followed closely by Christmas. Then, a posture and attitude of gratitude cultivated by God's Spirit in our hearts prepares us for the greatest gift of all, the birth of our Savior.
A central theme of the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatian churches is their failure to properly remember and be grateful for all that God has done for them in Christ Jesus. He reminds them what God did for each one of them (and each of us).
Jesus redeemed us and rescued us (Gal. 1:4). Jesus adopted those of us who believe in Him, and to them He gave the power to become the children of God (John 1:12). Jesus justified us (Gal. 2:16), "and we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ." Justification means that He deals with us just as if we had never sinned and just as if we had always been obedient.
In what is known as the "great exchange," Jesus came to earth and took all of our sin on the Cross and imputed to us His righteousness. He became "the first-born among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29).
The closer we come to the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Savior, the more we are reminded to praise God for His incomparable gift of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.
Jesus saved us and He adopted us. Adoption is always an intentional and deliberate act of love. No one is an accidental Christian. Our Heavenly Father has made us His heirs (Gal. 4:7), "so you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."
The Apostle John puts it this way in 1 John 3:2, "Beloved, now we are the sons of God that doth not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him. For we shall see Him as He is."
As we give thanksgiving and praise for His bountiful and matchless blessings to us as believers, we cannot help but be overcome with gratitude to our Heavenly Father "for His great love wherewith He loved us." (Eph. 2:4).