Summary: With Christmas becoming evermore a time of self-indulgence, it's all the more important that we truly pause at Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas season to praise God's divine goodness.
A few weeks ago, news broke that some major retailers would be opening their doors early for Black Friday. Now, we’ve all watched over the years as Black Friday “door busters” have slipped up and up into the ever-earlier hours of that first post-Thanksgiving Day. It is no longer unusual for stores to open at midnight for Black Friday shoppers. So I suppose it should be no surprise to us that this year, there were four or five retailers that decided to open their stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. As one reporter said, “These stores opened before the Thanksgiving leftovers even had time to cool down!”
This past Monday morning, as I was getting ready for the day, I saw a news story about people camping out outside of stores in California so they could be first in line for Black Friday deals. Some of them had started camping out the Monday before—that’s Monday, November 12, for those of you who are trying to figure out just out long ago that was. They were camped out for almost two weeks by the time Friday, November 23, rolled around a couple of days ago! What’s most fascinating to me, though, is the fact that Black Friday is intended as a kick-off to the Christmas season and holiday shopping, and yet statistics report that over 85% of Black Friday shoppers are shopping for themselves, not for Christmas gifts for others. And somehow, in the midst of all this Black Friday hoopla, Thanksgiving seems to be forgotten. It’s like we go from Halloween to Christmas, with a great shopping frenzy in between!
When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was my most favorite holiday because it was the one time every year that my whole family got together; all of us. We would gather at my grandparents’ house in North Carolina, or my aunt’s house in Virginia, or my own home in Oak Ridge. We would play and have fun. We enjoyed watching the parades, and my cousins could be found yelling at the TV screen in the afternoon as they watched football. Of course, there was always the adult table and the kid table. Funny how when you’re a kid you always want to be at the adult table, and when you’re an adult you want to be back at the kids’ table. With a banquet filling the kitchens of our homes, we would eat more than our fill and enjoy one another’s company for a few magical days each year.
I remember one year in particular. It was probably the last time any significant number of us were together, as our ranks started to dwindle as we began going our separate ways, fanning out across the country and establishing new traditions with new families and friends. So on this particular year, we were all seated around one table preparing to eat our meal, and my grandfather asked that we go around the table and each share something for which we were thankful. I don’t remember specifically what any of us said anymore, or even what I said, but I know now what underlies all our many blessings. And I know what I would say today if asked that same question.
Merriam-Webster online defines thanksgiving as, “a public acknowledgment of Divine Goodness;” a public acknowledgment of Divine Goodness. And yet, we seem to have lost that sense of Thanksgiving. In the midst of our orgies of over-indulgence, as we stuff our stomachs with way too much food, and then go out to stuff our carts with way too much stuff, we seem to have forgotten the Source of our many blessings. We gather around a Thanksgiving table each year and quickly offer our thanks for family and friends, for safety and security, for health and happiness, so that we can dive in to the delicious plate of food sitting tauntingly in front of us. But how often do we actually “do” Thanksgiving the way it should be done? How often in the midst of the holiday rush do we make a public acknowledgment of the Divine Goodness in our lives; the fount of our blessings; our Source and Provider? Sure, Thanksgiving started as a national public holiday, but as Christians, our Thanksgiving should be so much more! “How can we thank God enough?” asks Paul of the early church at Thessalonica. When we really pause to think about all that God has done for us, how can we thank God enough?
Alex Haley, an East Tennessee native and the author of Roots, had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked, “Why is that there?” Alex Haley answered, “Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words and think that they are wonderful, and I begin to feel proud of myself, I look over at that turtle on top of the fence post and I remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help.”