20 November 2012

thanksgiving: a theological statement

This week brings the American national holiday known as Thanksgiving.  What is happening in our culture, however, is a stripping of both its history and its present impact.  With increasing frequency I have heard it referred to as "Turkey Day" and, most recently was wished to have a "happy holiday."  The happy holiday phrase has typically found its popularity around those who have been bullied by the politically-correct culture into not wishing anyone a Merry Christmas, but I see now that it is moving up to Thanksgiving as well.

Why?  Because Thanksgiving is, at its center, a theological statement which we ought never to take lightly.  When we pause to give thanks, there is an assumption that we are thankful to someone, in this case the Creator and Giver of breath and bread.  And it seems that this notion, now that Christmas has been reduced to a holiday season, is what now must be stripped of if the surrounding society is to 'allow' for its celebration.  No longer is this a day for national pause, remembrance, and thanksgiving to God (and at this point I would be more accepting of thanksgiving to any particular god).  Rather, this is a day being overrun by the entrance of the Christmas holiday season, black friday sales, and the celebration of our glutenous abundance.

Could the people of God make an impact for the kingdom of God through Thanksgiving practice?  If Thanksgiving is a theological statement, the answer must be yes.  And I believe so, not just in theory but in practice as well, for our willingness to commemorate a thanksgiving to the Creator as a public sign of our faith.  But this means that we will need to renew our perspective on Thanksgiving, not as a national celebration of pigskin, turkey fat, or coupon cutting.  We must become more centered on the gospel, which never seeks to heap blessings upon ourselves, for the proper understanding of our thanksgiving practice.

First, it begins by saying aloud Thanksgiving.  We do not wish you a happy holiday, we know nothing of this turkey day of which you speak, and we do not consider the climax of the day's events the arrival of Santa Claus at Macy's.  We wish you a happy Thanksgiving, for we give thanks in all circumstances, even if you have not learned how to do so.  (We are also here to help you discover the faith which will allow you to do so.)

Second, we give thanks by acknowledging among our families the goodness of the Creator.  We do not simply throw in a prayer before eating, and we even go beyond the round-table-offering of what I am thankful for this year.  We speak of God's blessing in all circumstances - even when elections do not turn out as we hoped - for, this is not a day of mourning, grumbling, apocalypsing, arguing, gloating, or conniving.  This is a day of thanksgiving to the one whose grace is present in all things and at all times.

Third, we give thanks by preserving our spiritual heritage.  Such activity has always been a part of the people of God, ever since Israel was instructed on preserving the story of the Passover (and the exodus and the other stories of the faith) throughout the generations.  We tell the story of God's faithfulness which, for Americans (on their nationally recognized Thanksgiving Day), includes the story of the pilgrims who came to this country in search of a better life, free from tyranny and oppression.  These brave men and women came to this country for religious reasons, and their story needs to be preserved rightfully because it is being stripped, attacked and rewritten by the same culture which seeks to remove God as the one who receives thanks.  These men and women sought to create a society based upon biblical principles and felt as though this was the land to do it.  They tried to live more communally and discovered that it didn't work, leading to a harsh winter which led to many deaths.  Out of this they found inspiration in biblical teaching (especially Joseph's instructions for storing for winter), and allowed each family to provide for themselves as they saw fit, before contributing to the good of the community.  When these two ideals were placed in such an order they prospered (even before the Indians 'taught' them how to hunt, farm and the like).  It is a story of God's faithfulness and blessing upon societies which seek to follow his path to life.  This history needs to be preserved around our tables of Thanksgiving.

Fourth, we can make Thanksgiving a theological statement by providing for those who are lacking.  For some, this means serving at a shelter, others in bringing the less-fortunate to their own family table. Others find ways to get meals into the hands of those who cannot afford their own meal.  This need not be broadcast upon our televisions - kingdom news seldom makes these headlines - but it will be the resounding gospel echoing through the hearts and minds of those who want to give thanks, yet struggle to provide for themselves and their families.

Thanksgiving is a theological statement, and it needs to be proclaimed by the church in these days.  It is a message which ought to be understood by all for the goodness of life and love given to us by our Maker.  Have a blessed Thanksgiving celebration.

No comments: