November 23, 2011: Thanksgiving Eve


TEXT: Matthew 17: 4: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

Dearly Beloved in Christ, From Whom All Blessings Flow:

What’s your favorite holiday? I’m sure you have one that is more special than any other on your list. Christmas is love and gift-giving. New years is a clean slate and starting fresh. Easter is the joy of life over death. July 4th is celebration born of freedom. Thanksgiving is a feast coupled with family time and a sense of well-being. Whatever holiday, or as we say in the church “holy day” you choose as #1, that choice says a lot about you as a person. It defines your inner values and reveals your emotional core.

Many people would pick Thanksgiving as their favorite holiday. Although technically it’s not a church festival in that Abe Lincoln codified the pilgrim tradition of it during the Civil War as a way to unite the country, this holiday has been subsumed by the church. And our modern Thanksgiving also has Biblical precedent. Think of Pentecost. Before the Spirit took it over as the spiritual birthday of the Church, it was a harvest festival for the Jews. That’s why those huge crowds were at Jerusalem when it occurred, to give thanks to God for physical blessings and for food. And then when the Spirit was poured out they were doubly fed—both inside and out!

The traditional Gospel for Thanksgiving is the healing of the ten lepers. The poignant application is Christ’s question to the one “who returns to give thanks” for his cleansing—that question: “Where are the other nine?” Upon hearing those words, it is easy for Thanksgiving worshipers to become self-righteous because they came to church and the “other nine” did not. It is easy for Christians to become Pharisaical in their Thanksgiving prayers, putting down those who don’t pray before eating the meal together. Likewise, it is easy just to become sentimental and misty-eyed during this holiday, reliving past days of old colored by the rose-tinted glasses of time.

Tonight I’m not going to do any of the above! Tonight I want each of you to focus on Peter’s words to Christ when they were together on the Mt. of Transfiguration. “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Indeed it is! What better place to be on Thanksgiving Eve than with the Lord and your fellow saints in God’s house at church! Here we have joined in holy awe to thank God Almighty for blessing us. We look at each other and see fellow saints, each of whom has had ups and downs during the past year, and yet by God’s grace we have all persevered in the faith. We have not succumbed to Satan’s negativity. We have not tried to steal credit from God for our blessings. No, we have come to His house to openly share with each other our praise of His goodness! The “other nine” are here. The “other nine” are you and your fellow believers across our land.

One of the greatest blessings we receive in this life is the companionship and strength of our fellow saints. It’s heartening to know that we’re not in this life all alone. Sometimes too much self-focus just plain burns us out! To me, Thanksgiving cannot be thanksgiving without joining my fellow saints in thanking Christ for saving me, saving them, blessing all of us, and keeping us on the heavenly track. And I’ve learned a lot of wisdom from such saints, too. I’ve learned that giving thanks for obvious blessings is important, but enumerating life’s small blessings fills the heart even more. Anyone can thank God for the job promotion, the new car, or a cure from cancer. But, thanking Him for a good night’s sleep, for daily power to cope with difficult people, for a positive outlook on life, and for a forgiving nature towards others who have hurt us, well, those insights are given especially to the thoughtful Christian, aren’t they? In fact, they are learned from and shared by fellow believers for whom every day is one of thanksgiving to the Lord.

So, tonight we join to thank Jesus Christ for saving our souls while feeding our bodies and sustaining us through another year. Yes, we’ll all do it tomorrow with family and friends at home. Nonetheless, there is something very intimate, very close, and very special about coming to church and sharing our spirit of joy with God and each other in His house. I guess it’s all about the sense of where we really “belong” or as Peter says so pointedly: “Lord, it is good for us to be here…..” Amen