In 1789, our nation’s first President, George Washington, issued the following proclamation:
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, and
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 signal favors of Almighty God,
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and glorious being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.
The holiday we recognize as the first Thanksgiving celebration started in the fall of 1621, when the settlers at the Plymouth colony in what we now call Massachusetts got together with about 90 Wampanoag Indians for a feast. The pilgrims had not had an easy time. Half of them had died the previous winter from disease, and without the help of the Indians, all of them would have perished.
After the colony’s first harvest, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a time of thanksgiving and prayer to God. The feast lasted three days and featured venison, turkey, duck, eel, clams, leeks, cod, bass, barley, corn, and cornbread.
Two years later, the colony responded to a severe drought with a time of prayer and fasting, and after the rains came, another thanksgiving celebration was held. Late in the year, Governor Bradford proclaimed November 29 as a day for the colony’s settlers to gather together and give thanks to God for all His blessings.
The first Thanksgiving Day proclamation of the independent United States was Washington’s proclamation in 1789, which set the last Thursday of November as the annual Thanksgiving Day celebration.
A few years later, however, the holiday was cancelled by the nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, who was an agnostic. The observation of Thanksgiving returned to our nation in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a national holiday to be observed the last Thursday of November each year, at the end of the harvest. The timing was changed to the 4th Thursday of November by President Roosevelt in 1941.
The tradition of Thanksgiving Day is to look to God in gratitude for His care and blessings. It does not matter that times may have been hard. The people used the occasion to recognize God as our Creator, Provider, and Sustainer. Finally, only two nations--the United States and Canada--officially recognize a day of thanksgiving. Both nations grew out of hardship, grit, and dependence on God.
For some context to our discussion today, let’s return for a moment to that day in November 1621 and the handful of survivors at Plymouth, Massachusetts. They had come to these shores looking for a fresh start. They were coopers, blacksmiths, weavers, farmers, and other tradesmen. They lived in very small huts made of small logs with mud to seal the cracks. The roofs were thatched and leaky. Food was scarce the winter of 1620-21, because the settlers arrived too late in 1620 for a successful agricultural season. They lived on small game, fish, berries, and edible roots that first winter, and half of the community died before the spring thaw. In 1621, the small community cultivated wheat and barley from seeds they had brought with them on the Mayflower, along with corn that was native to their new land. The community had good relationships with the natives in the area, the Wampanoag tribe, and the Indians helped with the planting, cultivation, and harvest.
After all the trials they had been through, what do you suppose was on the pilgrims’ list of things for which they were thankful? Their list was most likely different from the lists we would make. They no doubt were thankful for their survival, for God’s provision of food from the land, and for the hope they had for the future--the simple, basic provision from God of life and sustenance. They didn’t have jobs, 401Ks, pensions, autos, fine homes, and so forth. They had life, and it was clear to them that their life and survival came from their Creator and Sustainer.
God tells us it is important for us to remember Him. In the Old Testament, God delivered His people twice to the land He had reserved for them--the first time when Abraham was chosen to lead his family into the Promised Land and second time when God chose Moses to lead the people out of slavery back to that land. Both times, God reminded them repeatedly not to forget Him when they had settled in the land. He knew the root of their difficulties would come not from the efforts to settle the land and prosper, but because they would tend to forget Him as their Provider and Sustainer as they became more and more secure and comfortable in the land.
Among the reminders God gave His people is Psalm 100. The Psalms were written and sung by the people several hundred years after they returned to the land. Today we will look at Psalm 100, a Psalm that recognizes God for who He is and what He does for His people.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is He who made us, and we are His;
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
Give thanks to Him and Praise His name.
For the Lord is good and His love endures forever,
His faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100 is known throughout Israel’s history as a psalm of thanksgiving. Note that it is not specific. That is, it does not express thankgiving for particular things, but expresses thanksgiving to God for Who He is and the faithfulness He shows His people.
In Israel when this Psalm was sung by the people, there was almost constant turmoil and insecurity. The nations around Israel continually threatened the nation’s security, and we read of dozens of times in the Old Testament histories when the nation had to fight for its survival. There also was internal turmoil. They were an agricultural society dependent on the success of each year’s harvest. Socially, there were periods of terrible injustice, the rich becoming richer and the poor ever poorer. Spiritually, their devotion to their God waxed and waned over the generations. Psalm 100 was one of the reminders God gave them to look to Him as their Creator, Provider, and Sustainer.
It sometimes is amazing to me that over the millenia, we haven’t changed much. Sure, our lives are more complicated today. Most of us are far removed from dependence on the annual harvest for our survival and prosperity. But we show many of the same tendencies as the Israelites--as we prosper and grow physically, we tend to forget about our Provider and Sustainer. In addition, perhaps we can look to September 11 as a spiritual wakeup call for us, when we were shocked by the evil and driven back to the realization that life consists of more than the endless quest for more prosperity and that our lives and sustenance are continuing gifts from our Creator.
This morning, I would like for us to look at Psalm 100 as a series of instructions to us from God, who wants us to get back to the basics of who we are, who God is, and what He does for us.
1. Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth
We all recognize it is God’s will for all people--everyone throughout the earth--to have joyful communion with Him.
One of the ways the Israelites expressed their joy as God’s children was to shout for joy. The term shout for joy in Hebrew denotes expressing happiness from the depth of one’s being. This was an expressive culture. They expressed themselves, much like charismatic Christians express themselves today as they experience the joy the very presence of the Lord brings to them. In Israel, shouting for joy in worship was often accompanied by a trumpet blast and exited dancing.
Joy in the Lord is something I don’t want to keep inside. While in our culture we may not literally shout and dance in exaltation, at the very least our inner spirit shouts and dances for joy when we realize who God is and what He means to us. It’s a much, much deeper feeling than the expression of thanksgiving for what God has provided to us. It is the expression of thanksgiving simply for the One who decided to create me and who now cares for me day by day.
Shout for joy!
2. Worship the Lord with gladness
There is a lot of theology and depth wrapped up in this short phrase.
The Hebrew idea of worship inexorably includes the idea of serving with all my being. The Psalm is reminding us to serve God completely, with all our being and as the singular purpose of our lives. The Psalmist allows for no other purpose of life than to worship and serve God. He adds that our worship and service must be with gladness. This means our devotion is not self-serving in any way, but is unreserved, unselfish, expecting nothing in return. It comes from pure love and is unconditional.
Like the people of Israel, we tend to worship God for what He has done for us, rather than simply who He is. It’s tragic to me that as we grow more comfortable and secure, we tend to forget that God is the source of our prosperity and security. It happened repeatedly in Israel, and it happens repeatedly today. Have you ever wondered--especially since September 11--what it is about human nature that obscures God when we feel secure and reveals Him when we do not?
It’s a mystery we all ponder, and while we cannot in any way be thankful for the crises, we can be thankful that the crises do awaken the sense of God in us about which the Psalmist writes--worship of God unreservedly as people who are completely dependent upon Him . . . worship of God not out of obligation or guilt feelings or because we may be elevated in others’ opinions of us . . . worship of God because of who He is and not simply because of what He has done for us physically or financially.
3. Come before Him with joyful songs
I’ve noticed that the first three instructions in this Psalm have to do with being happy in God’s presence. There is nothing here about being happy because we have warm clothing or a roof over our heads. There is nothing here about being grateful to Him for our job or our pension fund . . . or our new home or new car. It is simply happiness because of Him.
The Psalmist sees that our thanksgiving above everything else is about the fact that we are His children. Period. It is good to meditate on that fact alone!
4. Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture
As we meditate on the fact we are His children, the Psalm pointedly reminds us of that fact. He is God, the only God, and it is He who created us.
I think the psalmist communicates here two senses about God creating us. First, He is Creator--that is, He decided to create you and me. All that I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually, God created. He created me as me intentionally and for His purposes. Nothing happened by accident or by evolution. It was His hand that did the creation.
Second, He continues to make me. He wants me to be more and more like Him in how I think, what I decide, and what I do. Remember our "What would Jesus do?" bookmarks? Every time we make a decision with Him in mind, we are being made more like Him, and He wants desperately for us to make all our decisions with Him in mind, with His standards being our standards, with His love being the love we show.
We can give thanks for His creative act in forming us and the fact He continually refines us.
5. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever, His faithfulness continues through all generations.
God does not treat us the way we sometimes treat Him, thank goodness! God loves us and cares for us even though we don’t deserve it. We never have deserved it, and we never will. God does not bless us today just because we lived up to His standards yesterday. He does not stop leading us just because we have failed to follow Him.
God is love. Let us be thankful this season not just for what He has done for us, but for who He is!