Summary: Our Thanksgiving is lived out through the Advent season as we seek to draw nearer to God, even as God in Christ Jesus draws nearer to us.
Always after Thanksgiving, I just want to plop down in a chair and go, “Ahhhhhhhh!” Thanksgiving is a funny sort of holiday; somehow relaxing and tiring at the same time. Between cooking, eating, catching up with friends and family, and now Black Friday shopping; it’s enough to energize you and wear you out all in the matter of a few days. 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. It’s easy for us at Thanksgiving each year to offer our thanks for family and friends, for safety and security, for health and happiness. But do we so often make a public acknowledgment of the Divine Goodness in our lives; the fount of our blessings; our Source and Provider? “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.”
We are here because God has brought us here. We are blessed because through Jesus Christ, God’s abundant grace has poured over us. It is so easy for us to forget all the blessings in our lives. It is so easy for us to say, “Woe is me!” One of the great mistakes of life is to turn to God only in the overpowering emergencies or the shattering crises. It is so easy for many of us to curse God; to blame God when catastrophe strikes. But we have things upside down! We live in a fallen world! We all sin! And yet, by the grace of God we still have the good times and the good things that we do have! It’s not as if we deserve them! Where would be without the help of the Lord, without the goodness of the Lord, without the love and faithfulness of our Savior? We can try to live without the help of God, but it really is an impossible assignment. Thanksgiving is about more than family gatherings and cranberry sauce; it’s about recognizing and proclaiming what our Savior has done for us! And how can we thank God enough for that?
One of the great and wonderful things about this time of year is that as the Thanksgiving season draws to a close, it ushers in Advent, and Advent affords us a special opportunity to really reflect on how we offer our thanksgiving to God. The word Advent comes from the Latin verb advenire, which means "to come toward, to draw near, to approach." This is the time when we remember and celebrate God’s drawing near to us in Jesus Christ in the past, in the present, and in the age to come. We can certainly celebrate God’s nearness to us in Jesus Christ through worship and prayers lifting praise to God; but an even greater thanksgiving and celebration of God’s coming in Jesus Christ is our constant efforts to draw nearer to God in Christ Jesus ourselves. As Christmas approaches, and that time when we celebrate again the birth of our Savior, we are reminded that we have to prepare ourselves to meet God, and preparing to meet God means living daily with him. This is the underlying message of the passage we heard a few moments ago from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians; that through love of God and one another we might increase in holiness and be found “blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus.” We have to look to God and rely on God in all things just as the sailors in days gone by relied on the stars to chart their course. And just as a skilled sailor can hone such a navigational skill to near perfection, we too can grow in our likeness to Christ and our nearness to God as we seek more fervently God’s direction for our lives; striving always to grow closer to God.