Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2015 is in many respects the National Holiday of the United States. We worship it with adoration and reverence.
It is the essence of our religion. Our icons are the turkey and football-both college and the NFL. We eat the turkey and all of its trimmings. Then we collapse in our pews (the couch or easy chair) and argue the subtle points of football.
The spirit of Thanksgiving was not always so pagan. The three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Mohamedism, all have their special days of worship. Christmas and Easter; Hanukah, and Yom Kippur; Ramadan. Interesting enough, thanksgiving-in its purest form is the basic expression of devotion of all three. Read the book of Psalms, which all three religions accept. Thanksgiving to God is the theme of most of the Psalms.
So, it was quite natural for the Pilgrims to celebrate with thanksgiving to God on December, 1621, for His blessings. They had survived their first winter and harvest.
However, where and when the first Thanksgiving was held in the United States is open for debate. St. Augustine, Florida declares it was on September 8, 1565 in their city.
Many historians say it was in Virginia and not in Plymouth. As early as 1607. It is recorded in the founding charter in Charles City, Virginia that a day of Thanksgiving was held in 1619. However, December of 1621 is generally accepted as the time of the first day of Thanksgiving in the U.S.A.
In 1789 George Washington proclaimed a national Day of Thanksgiving on November 26. Abraham Lincoln did the same for the last Thursday of November in 1863.
In 1939 President F. D. Roosevelt proclaimed a national day on the fourth Thursday of November. Every President since then has followed this tradition.
Ben Johnson, the great English essayist, is reported as saying, “Gratitude is seldom found among most people.” Seemingly, the more independent we become and the more self-sufficient we become, the less likely we are to acknowledge a spirit of gratitude. Which always precedes thanksgiving.
As great as Mark Twain became, he was the exception. At the top of his popularity, he was paid between three and five dollars for each word he wrote. A fan wrote him a letter requesting his (Twain’s) favorite word. He included a five dollar bill. In his most inimitable way, Twain sent back one word-THANKS.
Remember the story of Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz? He was a vicious, resentful, morose killer. He spent fifty of his seventy years incarcerated in prison.
However, he became a well-known author and rehabilitated his life. He became an authority on birds. Especially what caused their sickness and death. Reportedly, his change began when a sparrow flew into his cell and was ill. He cared for it and it became well. He then did something unusual for him. He asked a guard for help.
The jailor was at first resentful but then relented and gave him a small box that Stroud had asked for. Then came his response, “Thanks.” The first expression of gratitude.
Ultimately gratitude is a spiritual expression. Most Christians are aware of the word “Eucharist.” It is the word used for the Sacrament of Holy Communion and The Lord’s Supper. Its meaning in Greek is “Thanksgiving.” The celebration of the Holy Eucharist was the first Sacrament of the Christian faith.
Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian of the last century, said it this way, “Gratitude is the only appropriate response any of us can make to God.”
Helen Keller said, “I never feel so alive as when I take time to say, “Thank you.”
Dale Carnegie stated that, “Gratitude should be expressed but not expected. Thankfulness is a key. It unlocks so many things that were closed, from frozen relationships to harden hearts.”
However you spend Thanksgiving Day, I urge you to include time to express gratitude to God.
Amen. Selah. So be it.