Summary: A message delivered on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. This is a study of the impact of a thankful heart on the follower of the Christ.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” [1]

In the United States, tradition dictates that turkeys donated to the White House should receive a mock presidential pardon immediately before Thanksgiving day. Surprisingly, the tradition is of rather recent origin, though its roots do go back a number of years. Abraham Lincoln was the first President to forgo killing a holiday bird. His son had grown attached to a turkey destined for a Christmas meal and prevailed upon his father to spare the bird. John F. Kennedy didn’t use the term “pardon,” but he did comment that the family should forego eating the donated bird. The tradition of granting a presidential pardon for the turkey was instituted by President George H. W. Bush in 1989. Each President since that time has officially pronounced a presidential pardon for the birds donated by the National Turkey Federation. [2]

Last year, President Joe Biden pardoned two turkeys named “Peanut Butter” and “Jelly.” The proclamation delivered at that time contains little with which God-fearing Americans may disagree. But neither is there much in the proclamation which would challenge Americans to remember a God whom the first president called “that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be,” and whom the sixteenth president referred to as “the Source … our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Tragically, for the majority of Americans Thanksgiving has become an excuse for a Bacchanalia. The day is characterised by men and women dazed and in a turkey coma lounging in front of a television as they pretend to watch two football teams exert themselves on the gridiron.

In Canada, our Thanksgiving observance has roots in the British Harvest Festival while yet recognising the arrival of the Pilgrims in the New World. Thus, our concept of Thanksgiving differs somewhat from that observed by our American cousins, though superficially the primary difference is in the timing of the observance. We do have the advantage of observing the feast we know as Thanksgiving at the conclusion of the harvest season, so that does make more sense than using the day as a kick-off for the Christmas season. Canadians have nothing of which to boast in this area, however; we take such great care not to offend any person that our neglect must surely give offence to Almighty God. When our Prime Minister issues a proclamation, it is equally vapid, if not more so as a proclamation that pardons turkeys from the chopping block.

The first Thanksgiving after Confederation was observed on April 5, 1872. It was a civic holiday rather than a religious observance, held to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales from an illness. Thanksgiving became an annual event in 1879. The date for each of the following years was determined by Parliament. Consequently, the holiday occurred as late as December 6, though the most popular date for the observance appears to have been the third Monday in October.

Beginning in 1921, Thanksgiving and Armistice Day were celebrated on the same day, the first Monday in the week of November 11th. In 1931, in a move meant to give more recognition to veterans, November 11th was designated solely as Remembrance Day. Thanksgiving was again proclaimed annually and typically observed on the second Monday in October. Parliament proclaimed the observance of the second Monday in October as “a day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest for which Canada has been blessed.” [3] This occurred on January 31, 1957. Thus, the national observance of Thanksgiving is relatively recent in Canada. And while this is a civic holiday, there persist religious notes to the observance. The emphasis in earlier days was gratitude to God for the harvest. It is obvious that the purpose has changed rather dramatically in this day. Thanksgiving has been transformed from a day of giving thanks to God to being observed as a day for family gatherings. The thanks that is given is almost always for the general well-being of the members of the family.

Whether for the family or for God’s provision, what is not heard often enough from the pulpits of this day is the teaching meant to remind us that gratitude is an indelible mark of the redeemed soul. If there is a plea for Christians to reveal a heart marked by gratitude, it does not appear to be an emphatic plea. Perhaps gratitude is suggested, but there is little emphasis on the necessity of being thankful. And we Christians do have so much for which we should be thankful. Despite this acknowledgement, we are prone to being influenced by the culture in which we are immersed. Almost unconsciously we adopt the view that we are the centre of our universe, failing to demonstrate gratitude for the mercies and the goodness showered upon us. We tend to become so engrossed in the moment, that we forget that we are living for eternity.

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