In recent years there has been an escalation in the din and wrangling about the nature and purpose of this season of the year. In an increasingly paganized society the meaning and reason for this extended season of celebration is becoming more and more murky. For some Thanksgiving is little more than a four day holiday dedicated to overeating and watching football between naps and meals. For others it is a celebration that the elections are finally over and they can return to something more meaningful and less painful like repeatedly jamming a pencil in their ear. For many, Thanksgiving is the day to gather one’s strength and strategize for the opening bell of the buying frenzy which begins early on Black Friday and acts as the official kick off of the “Christmas Season.” Is Charles Dickens’ character Ebenezer Scrooge’s assessment of this time more accurate today than it was even when it was penned? “What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer….”
As Black Friday kicks off the buying frenzy political correctness will seek to further confuse and confound. I heard someone say the other day (hopefully tongue-in-cheek), “Those fundamentalists are trying to force Christ in to Christmas now!” Should the stores and other retailers say “Merry Christmas” and thus try to unfairly interject Christ into this otherwise secular season? Of course, there is what sounds like the more religiously neutral ”Happy Holidays.” That is until one realizes that the word “holiday” is derived from the contraction of two 14th Century Old English words Halig (holy) and daeg (day) or as we would say it “Holy Day.” “Happy Holidays” is by its very nature a religious greeting and reminder to one another as it is used that these are (or at least were) Holy Days. Then there is what seems like the non-descript “Seasons Greetings,” Well, which season would that be I wonder? Historically that would be the Advent season. The last Sunday of November begins the 4 week focus and preparation of the celebration of the first advent or birth of Christ. (Of course, the religious Holy Days of Hanukkah occur during this period and the newly founded non-religious celebration called Kwanzaa begins on December 26).
Initially Thanksgiving was a religious feast celebrated by religious people (the Pilgrims were Puritans) to thank God for His provision and was a cross cultural feast which included 91 Indians who had helped the Pilgrims survive. It was probably more like a traditional English Harvest festival and lasted for about three days. So, although as a culture we seem to have lost the original purpose of Thanksgiving (as is the case in so many areas) we have at least made progress in one area and increased the celebration time from three to four days.
As I reflected on these things this week I asked myself, “Self, what am I thankful for?” and began compiling a list. First, I have to echo the Apostle Paul’s words, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). The grace of God poured out into the lives of those who are His left Paul speechless. He had spent time encouraging the Corinthians by telling how he had been boasting about them. Reading this one can see him as a proud father bragging about his children. He was thankful for the financial generosity that they would be exhibiting to support the ministry to those in need. Like Paul, I am humbled and left speechless by the gift of salvation as well as those He has raised up to financially support this ministry that He has called Joy and I to.
I am thankful for my beloved Joy. Even after being married for 36 years she still takes my breath away. I am thankful for my children and grandchildren and the special time this day and this season will give us together. I am thankful for my mother and her loving me even when I was a rebellious teenager and doing all she could to provide for and raise six children by herself. I am thankful for Joy’s late father (he died a year ago this month) who prayed for us and the ministry every day and Joy’s mother who continues to do so. I am thankful for friends and ministry supporters who are God’s gift to me. I think I get a sense of the thankfulness that Paul had to God for all of the relationships, beginning with reconciliation to God brought about through Jesus Christ, which God had brought in to his life. His thankfulness for how he saw God growing in those whom he had discipled, taught, prayed for and wept over. For Paul it wasn’t about stuff. It wasn’t nickels and noses but seeing unbelievers coming to the faith and growing in their knowledge and understanding of God to the point that it changed how they lived.
I am also thankful for the season. The culture we live in is more like the first century than any other time since then. Living in an increasingly pagan culture also brings with it challenges that can be seasonally enhanced. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4: 1-3:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires…
Rather than argue over what the retail store employees should say we have a real opportunity to give the gospel as people are more open to talking about the reason for the season. In context Paul’s charge was directed at the Church not the culture. Perhaps in our day and age the Church may be the place to start as well. As believers are trained in sound doctrine and grow spiritually their ability to see God working all around them and in others increases and along with that the ability to be thankful also expands.
Take No One For Granted
There once was a little boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he packed his suitcase with cupcakes, several cans of root-beer and started on his journey.
When he had gone about three blocks, he saw an elderly woman. She was sitting on a park bench watching the pigeons. The boy sat down next to her and opened his suitcase. He was about to take a drink from his root beer when he noticed the lady looked hungry so he offered her a cupcake. She gratefully accepted and smiled at him.
Her smile was so wonderful that he wanted to see it again, so he offered a root beer as well. Once again she smiled at him. The boy was delighted!
They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling without saying a word. As it began to grow dark, the boy realized how tired he was and wanted to go home. He got up to leave but before he had gone no more than a few steps, he turned around and ran back to the old woman, giving her a big hug. She gave him her biggest smile ever.
When the boy arrived home his Mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked, “What has made you so happy today?” He replied, “I had lunch with God.” Before his mother could respond he added, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile in the whole world!”
Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face. He asked,”Mother, what has made you so happy today?” She replied, “I ate cupcakes in the park with God.” And before her son could reply, she added, “You know, he is much younger than I expected.”
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring; all of which have the potential to turn life around.
People come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Take no one for granted and embrace all equally with joy!
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!