Those who know me know I love this season above all others and that for me, this season begins with our annual trip to the family farm for Thanksgiving. This a beautiful place among the rolling hills outside Brenham, Texas, that has been in my wife's family since the 1850s. Each Thanksgiving we gather to give thanks and celebrate, among other things, the wonderful gift of family. My children have never known a Thanksgiving apart from the farm.
This year however we will not be making our annual pilgrimage. As I write this, my wife is with her mother in San Diego as she slowly passes from this life to the next. Compounding the grief associated with her passing is the absence of our oldest son, Tyler, as he is halfway around the world serving in the Marine Corps. These events serve to remind me that this life is both brief and fleeting-that everything eventually changes and that any small measure of peace and security we derive from this life is never final. There is a melancholy that accompanies this realization, a sadness that reminds me what my sin has done to God's good creation.
It is during such a season that I am compelled to look beyond this world to Christ alone for my hope and comfort. It is with this fact in mind that I can give thanks this Thanksgiving Day. I pray that we all take this time to reflect on the many good and gracious gifts of God. I would encourage those who are with their families this season to reflect on the extraordinary blessing that a loving family represents-to drink deeply of this unique abundance of love and joy that the Lord has given, knowing it will not endure forever. For those who are without their families, I pray the Lord will pour out his grace upon you and give you peace and comfort. If you have never known the gift of a loving family, I encourage you to seek the redemptive hope found in Christ-for he is making all things new, including the possibility for restoring what has either been lost or never known.
This day of thanksgiving was established for our nation by George Washington in his first presidential proclamation, in which he called the nation to set aside a day for giving thanks to that "great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…."
President Washington gave under his official hand the following words:
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…
Furthermore President Washington acknowledged that he was joined by the Congress in his appeal to the nation:
Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness…
This presidential proclamation represented, in unequivocal terms, the government's call upon the people of this nation to acknowledge and give thanks to God alone for his many and abundant blessings. These were not benign religious platitudes but absolute statements reflecting a particular view of life and reality that acknowledged there is one God-the God who has revealed himself in Scripture, in nature, and in the person of Jesus Christ. It is this God the nation once acknowledged and it is this God, the one true God, the people of this nation have turned against and today refuse to acknowledge and serve.
Seventy-four years later, in the midst of the great Civil War, President Lincoln would issue a similar call to the nation, acknowledging the nation's many blessings from the Lord, "…who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy." President Lincoln, like our first president, would once again call the nation to national thanksgiving and repentance with these words:
And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience…and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
America, in its folly, has been in the process of severing its national identity and dependence from the God who has given it birth and blessed it for so long. Therefore, it seems to me that we might be well served to recall the proclamations of these great men set aside for this Thanksgiving holiday and once again give thanks to Almighty God for his longsuffering patience and mercy toward this nation and humbly repent of our national rebellion and wanton disregard for all that is holy and just.
This national repentance begins in the church, which has seemingly lost its way-abandoned (practically speaking) its first love and so often conformed to the world. On this Thanksgiving Day may we acknowledge the many and abundant blessings of our Father, accompanied by a deep and sorrowful repentance for our individual, corporate, and national sins. This, my dear brothers and sisters, is our only hope and it is for this real hope and the promise of forgiveness that we can give thanks indeed!
May the Lord, in his great mercy, pour out his spirit upon you, your families, his church, and this nation this Thanksgiving Day.