Summary: Thanksgiving, while perhaps something we most need to do, turns out to be the most difficult thing we do. A brief examination shows us why.
Thanksgiving: It’s not easy
Thanksgiving: we have celebratory day for it every year. It’s a very American holiday, and it is deeply ingrained in our culture. We devote a day just to thanksgiving - at least that is what we claim. That doesn’t sound so tough. In fact, you wouldn’t think it would be all that difficult. But it turns out to be harder than you might first think.
I. Thanksgiving is a tough assignment for us.
Think about what the origin of the word “holiday.” It is a day that is, for some reason or other, “holy.” We live in a society that increasingly would like to forget that anything can be “holy.” Besides the demands that holy things can make on us, there are other reasons why “holy” days are a little discomforting to our world.
The existence of the “holy” implies the existence of God. When you start talking about God, try as you might NOT to identify this God, it becomes very hard to avoid that question at some point.
You run into the especially at universities, such as the one where I minister. For years our university invited a campus minister to lead an invocation at each meeting of the Board of Regents. I used to take my turn, until one day I got a call from the President’s assistant. They wanted me to come to the next Regents meeting and lead a prayer, but they wanted me to “tone it down” a bit.
I wondered out loud what “tone it down” might mean. The person on the other end was very reluctant to say, but finally I got her to tell me that what they wanted was for me NOT to pray “in the name of Jesus.” Why couldn’t I just pray a “generic” prayer, she asked.
Well, a “holy” day brings up this very question, a question asked and answered very often in the Old Testament: just who is God? Is everything God? Are human beings their own god? Are there lots of gods, one for one locality and a different one for another locality? Is Allah God? And what about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Holidays bring up these very sticky questions that a lot of modern people would just rather avoid.
Still, people love “holidays” because we get to change our routines and can, if we allow ourselves, have a little rest from the normal “grind.”
So we run into a very interesting, and somewhat depressing, modern phenomenon. We want our holidays, but we wish they were just “days” and not “holy.”
I have noticed how this has been handled lately. Christmas has become just “the season” for which we send “season’s greetings.” It’s a pretty slick trick if you think about it. You don’t have to bother about that worrisome, politically incorrect “Christ” part of Christmas.
Thanksgiving has faired no better. It has become “turkey day.” This doesn’t do much to promote the happiness of the “animal rights” activists because it’s not a day when we honor or worship turkeys - not around here, at least - but a day when we EAT turkeys, and perhaps other assorted foul!
But this nifty little arrangement takes the “thanks” out of Thanksgiving.
There is, however, a little milder version of the holiness avoidance syndrome (you can call this H.A.S. if you like). This milder version keeps the word “thanksgiving” intact, and it even let’s us talk about being thankful, but we just don’t specify TO WHOM we are being thankful. While you can try that, at some point inquiring minds want to know, “thankful to whom?” It is not at all holy to be thankful unless you are thankful to the right person!
II Thanksgiving is NOT easy - especially for people like us!
There really can be no excuse for all of this. While the old saying tells us that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the apostles Paul tells us that the skids to hell are greased with thanklessness. You can find that in Romans 1:21. People are sliding down those horrible rails all the time. Again, there is no excuse for this, but if you think about it, it has a certain kind of understandability because thankfulness is very hard for we humans.
Thankfulness is especially difficult when we have so much stuff. We are so accustomed to our abundance of stuff that we don’t even realize just how much stuff we really have.
When I take a moment to think about it, I am awed by what I see in department stores and supermarkets. Almost anything you could ever want is there, and even those of us the most modestly provided can buy everything we need and much of what we want. The only reason we don’t notice this abundance is that we are in the habit of having.