Like many others, my family will not be gathering together for Thanksgiving this Thursday. It is truly disappointing to me not to be celebrating with my parents and siblings; however, some of us have had recent exposure to COVID so the decision not to get together was easy. I have been struck by how many people act as is Thanksgiving is canceled. (And yes I am aware that many states are severely limiting thanksgiving celebrations and lament how those decisions impact families). Many think that since they cannot gather with friends and family they cannot celebrate. Others will ask what there is to celebrate this year.
I get it, celebrating Thanksgiving will be difficult this year, but that does not mean impossible. I realize that Thanksgiving (at least the one to be celebrated tomorrow) is an American holiday; but this is the one time I truly think Christians need to co-opt something from the culture. Christians must recognize the need for a day set aside for thanksgiving– particularly a day where we do not feel especially thankful. I do not know to whom many are thankful on Thanksgiving, but in my family we are thankful to God. Directing our thanks to God we are able to celebrate Thanksgiving despite the circumstances of the year. Despite the fact that my children have missed out on so much, despite the fact that my schedule has been thrown into chaos, despite my wife’s worry over our health we are thankful.
I do not want to sound trite here, but my thankfulness is not rooted in what I have received (though there is probably plenty to be thankful for on that grounds). Rather I take my cue from the author of 1 Chronicles.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. 1 Chronicles 16:34
The author recognizes his thanksgiving is not rooted in what he has, thanksgiving begins in God’s character. Once we recognize God’s character and recognize that character is consistent our circumstances cease to be the source of thanksgiving. I think about what the chronicler saw, exile, economic hardship, no king and yet 1 Chronicles ends with a note of thanksgiving (29:13). The reason for the thanksgiving is because the author understands God’s character is rooted in “steadfast love”. Because God’s character is defined by this loyalty and faithfulness the author understands that God will always be working for the benefit of God’s people.
I do not want to provide some simplistic prosperity gospel that says because God is working with us bad things cannot happen. Rather, I want us to realize that as the difficulties of life oppress and stress us, we have help. God is standing with us, helping us in the midst of the difficulties. We are not left to fend by our own devices, we are working through God’s Spirit in the world. It is this character of God which the Bible witnesses to again and again. Throughout the Bible we see God standing alongside God’s people, helping them through the darkest times of life and providing them with hope when all hope seemed lost.
What does this mean for us, deprived of a traditional Thanksgiving? This year we must focus less on what we have and more on God’s character. We must be thankful for the fact that God is loving and faithful and that God’s character is not going to change. We must be thankful that God has been near our ancestors in many calamities and has helped them in their difficult times. We must try to see all of these as reasons to celebrate. We may be months away from the end of this plague , but God is here today giving us hope and strength. Yes, I am thankful that my family has escaped real difficulty during this year. Yes, I am thankful I will still have plenty to eat. Yes, I am thankful for much. But the reason I am thankful for all of these blessings this year is because I am learning to be thankful for the unchanging character of God.