Thanks for Thanksgiving
And so, I am thankful.
But there is something else. It's a small thing, but today I am thankful for Thanksgiving.
Reminiscent of when God, through Moses, set the slaves free, and gave them a Sabbath day each week in which to honor Him by resting and trusting Him, Lincoln declared the slaves of our own sinful nation free. And in the midst of our civil war, he established a day set apart for the sole purpose of honoring God:
"The year that is drawing towards 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 soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict.... 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." - from Lincoln's Thanksgiving ProclamationI am thankful that this holy day was declared at a time when it was still permissible for a man to govern with open regard to his faith in God and to govern in light of it. No such faith, or expression of it, would be tolerated in a President in our own day and age. This holiday had a single purpose, one which we (or our courts) would not stomach were it proposed today. That purpose was to honor God with thanksgiving for His providential care and undeserved mercy for a sinful people.
And yet it was because this very faith reigned in the heart of this man, and enough of the populace, that the end of The American Slave Trade was begun. It was in light of such faith that many were willing to risk their lives for such a thing. It was in light of this faith that a national day of Thanksgiving would be called in the very heat of the Civil War, not after it.
Today America is, by and large, a people who believe neither in a God who maintains and cares for this world and its inhabitants, nor in His mercy. Indeed, for people who no longer believe in sin, there is no use for mercy. And, so, in our hearts we are not a thankful people. Even so, this one day each year we make our feeble efforts to return to our roots. We try to recapture the joy and heartfelt gratitude of a bygone era. We drudge up things to be thankful for, try to take stock of blessings we've spent the rest of the year ignoring, and, if we are so inclined, we will also remember that we did not acquire all these by our fantastic prowess, but that there is a God behind it all - a God who patiently does good while we are at best oblivious, and, at worst ungrateful, petulant, and discontent.
Clinging to nostalgia, Thanksgiving, the holiday, has managed to survive the increasingly godless decades. It has also hung on by a shift of focus. A holiday must have its joys. But now the joy is not to be found in the Giver of the gifts, but in the gifts themselves. For decades now, the great moral value of Thanksgiving has ceased to be the humble recognition of the goodness and mercy of God toward sinners. We have traded that more solemn joy for a celebration of food, football, and (at it's loftiest) Family.
Yet for all this supposed thankfulness for Family, we've seen that in the same decades that the people have ceased to honor God, the institution of the family has crumbled. Broken homes are now the norm. This, come Thanksgiving day, leaves us next to nothing left to focus our thanksgiving on. All the sacred bits are gone. The thankless hearts are empty and commercialism, dependent as it is on discontent, sensing its opportunity, has injected itself into void.
Now we have a new "joy" for our holiday. Once we've feasted on food and football, we head out to the stores. There we stuff the bellies of our discontented souls with countless other things which can never satisfy.
Still, discontented as we are, by some miracle, the Thanksgiving holiday, though severed from its moorings, remains afloat. And I am thankful that our uniquely American holiday, artifact though it seems to be, still exists. I'm thankful that it was created when it was, during that perfect time in our nation's history when such a thing could be. I'm thankful that it still stands as monument to all those who once believed, to those who still do believe, and to the God who so blessed them, and continues to bless us all.
And I pray, that like the Athenian altar to the Unknown God, it will continue to stand as a reminder to every American that they may have forgotten something very important, and I pray that those of us who have not forgotten, will make use of the opportunity to turn hearts and minds back to God.