By JOEL PADGETT
CONNECTING FAITH AND LIFE
What a year it’s been! And what a year it still promises to be! This year’s celebration of Thanksgiving may have been quite different for many people. Yet, even if the external observation may not have been what one would have desired, the heart of what and why we celebrate this holiday does not depend on externals. Similar to how the day on which we celebrate Jesus’ birth is increasingly attacked through efforts to take “Christ” out of Christmas, so Thanksgiving is stripped of its original meaning — giving thanks to God — when it is simply reduced to “Turkey Day.” Contrary to cancel culture, it is essential that a society not forget its roots in order to be healthy, to grow and to not repeat past mistakes. Since politics have been so present this year, let us remember what some prominent politicians had to say about the purpose of Thanksgiving.
Recalling the earliest celebrations of Thanksgiving in the United States, John F. Kennedy stated, “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God.”
The first official nationwide celebration of Thanksgiving took place in 1789. George Washington proclaimed the holiday to be “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Of all years, however, this year might find many people struggling to have a “grateful heart” and to see the “many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Let’s be honest; it has been a rough year.
To this end, perhaps the words of Abraham Lincoln are the most fitting and worth quoting at greater length. Two and a half years into our nation’s bloody civil war, which raged from 1861–1865, he stated the following in his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863:
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and even soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God. […] No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. […] I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”
Although a century and a half have gone by, and even though the immediate cause is different, Lincoln’s words may just as well have been written for today. For the ultimate cause of all discord, division and death is sin. However, in Christ Jesus, sin and death are conquered. He is our Savior, and He is with us always, even to the end of the age (cf. Mt. 28:20). So, come what may, thanks be to God!