I’ve lived in the United States of America my entire life. As a result, every year of my life, on the last Thursday of November, I’ve gathered with at least some family or friends and celebrated the holiday we call Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday in the Bible; you’re free to do nothing at all for it if you’d like. I’ve generally liked to do something for it, but, as we’ve now gotten used to saying, 2020 is different.
Due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia, I assume many of you have significantly modified Thanksgiving plans, if not totally cancelled them. That is cause for lamentation, as many things this year have been. Nonetheless, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” To refuse to give thanks in every circumstance is to live under the lie that we have nothing for which to be genuinely thankful, and that’s simply never true for a Christian (see Eph 1:3-14 or Hebrews 12:28, for examples). Though the holiday may be different this year, and whether you choose to celebrate it at all or not, don’t miss the opportunity for thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving as we know it today was instituted by President Abraham Lincoln, and every year around this time I like to share his words about it, not because there’s anything magical about him, but because there seems to be some wisdom in them, and every year, they seem to still apply to the situation we are in:
“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.”
That’s the “what” of the holiday, and here is President Lincoln’s recommendation on how we should observe it:
“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, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil [war] in which we are unavoidably engaged, 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.”
There’s a lot there, but just a few things I want to commend to you whether you observe the holiday or not:
1. Offer up “ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings” – Take time to tell God how great He is and to recount what He’s done for you and for those around you. Maybe meditate on a passage like Ephesians 1:3-14 and offer to God thanks for such singular deliverances and blessings.
2. Do so “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience” – Thanksgiving is not a time to whitewash America’s past or present so we can all enjoy a meal and some football. It is a time to give thanks to God precisely because He’s been so good to us in spite of us, in spite of our national perverseness and disobedience, still alive today, which we all contribute to in some way. Let us not give thanks without an accompanying humble repentance. Consider using 1 Corinthians 13, which we’ve just finished preaching on, to confess the ways you fall short of the love it describes.
3. Commend widows, orphans, mourners, and sufferers to “his tender care” – Lincoln, of course, in his words, referred to “those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil [war] in which we are unavoidably engaged…” We aren’t in a Civil War today, but there are people who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable COVID-19 pandemic in which we are unavoidably engaged. Commend them to God’s tender care in prayer. Ask Him to heal, comfort, and sustain. “Fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation…” – The nation had its wounds and divisions in Lincoln’s time. We saw ample evidence this year that the racial wounds of Lincoln’s day have still not been healed in 2020. And we’ve gotten some new wounds this year. But God is a God who heals. Let’s pray for Him to do so.
In closing, in the time we are in, the final words of Lincoln’s prayer still fit so well:
“Father, heal the wounds of this nation and restore it as soon as may be consistent with your purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.”