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Seems like a challenging year to put together a decent Thanksgiving, doesn’t it? We’ve got a pandemic to deal with. A disputed election. And a deeply divided country. Family and friends are at odds with one other, grumpier than ever, and throwing firebombs on social media has reached new levels. Football on Thanksgiving, but who cares? Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is cancelled. So maybe you’re asking yourself, What’s the point? Why even try to pull off a decent Thanksgiving?

Well, I think that’d be a mistake. Let’s put this in context a little here. It’s interesting that our national Day of Thanksgiving was actually proclaimed by President Lincoln at the very time that our country was in the middle of a violent civil war. What a time that was. Families divided. Violence and discord, which makes our present situation pale in comparison. But for President Lincoln, and for the country, as troubled as things were, it was the right time, and necessary, to stop and thank God, for heads to bow and for knees to bend.    

Then go back farther to the very first Thanksgiving, which took place exactly 400 years ago. That wasn’t exactly a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving either. Because a little over a hundred pilgrims were huddled in a relatively small boat – the Mayflower – heading to America across the Atlantic Ocean – being thrown about by furious gales. The passengers were forced to crouch in darkness below deck as ocean swells rose to over a hundred feet. With waves tossing the boat in different directions, men held onto their wives, who themselves held onto their children. The wood of the ship was splintering and cracking and filling with water, so teams had to take turns mending the boat and keeping the water out so the thing wouldn’t sink.

When they finally landed it was no picnic either. The bitter cold greeted them, and so the passengers had to stay couped up on the Mayflower the entire winter. During that long winter, these first pilgrims suffered a horrible outbreak of some strange sickness – something of a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. By the time the long and deadly winter was over, over half of the passengers and crew had died.

Still mourning their losses, they disembarked in the spring, felled timber and they made homes for themselves, planted seed and worked the ground – much from the assistance of Native American helpers. And in the fall, at their first harvest, in something of a lonely wilderness, they set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, the remaining pilgrims from the Mayflower 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 God. They had suffered greatly, but they gave thanks to God for His mercy and kindness. They had a thanksgiving.

So back to the question. What sort of Thanksgiving is this for us this year? Is it worth even trying, with all the chaos and turmoil of 2020? Can true thanksgiving be done? Absolutely!

Even with all the chaos, all the uncertainty, it’s a great time – the right time to stop and thank God for all His benefits.

Consider our first reading today from Deuteronomy. Moses is preaching a final farewell sermon to the Israelites. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Moses reminds them that their clothing has not worn out. That He fed them and cared for them, provided for all of their needs. Moses invites the congregation to never forsake the Lord and to trust in Him. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing. And you shall eat and be full, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”

Now I want you to think about the liturgy of the Holy Supper that we sing every Sunday. “Lift up your hearts,” we pray. “Let us give thanks unto the Lord, our God. It is meet and right so to do! It is truly meet, right, and salutary, that we should at ALL times and in ALL places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

Every week we pray that. We Christians give thanks to God not just one day out of the year, but every day, at all times and in all places – every hour and in every circumstance. In want and in plenty. We bow our heads before every meal and give thanks to God. You see, thanksgiving for Christians is not a one-day deal, it’s every day and every hour – thanksgiving is the very air we breathe.

Dear friends, no matter what political situation is going on, world event, personal trial or affliction, it may be you have a reason to thank God for all eternity. Because He’s given to you His Son – and it’s as simple as that. He’s saved you from your sins, reconciled you to God your heavenly Father, and keeps you and your family in His loving care throughout it all.

Today as you gather together with family and friends, enjoy the food, the laughter, and the joy that comes from God. It will be smaller, no doubt, maybe slightly impoverished, but you can give thanks for that too – because it serves a greater purpose, to remind us that we are all aching and longing for something even much better. Our Father’s house in heaven, our home, and a feast that never ends. Every Thanksgiving is a reminder that we pilgrims are still on a journey, with a common destination, being someday gathered all together at the family table with the whole family of God – and all the heavenly host. Someday He will call us all there.

But until then, throughout our present journey, the love of Christ calls us to a life of nonstop joy and thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for everything. To live and be able to go to work, to have work to do at all, to have our near and dear ones around us, to have food on the table and heat in our homes, nothing can be taken for granted.

Today, we give thanks to God for all. In every event of our life, in all that we see, in everything that grows and blooms, in all our blessings, all our suffering, even. There is God beside us with His grace and mercy – working all in all.

So Happy Thanksgiving! May God give to us all glad and generous hearts, that we may thank Him in every circumstance, and glorify Him with our lives and all that we are. In the name of Jesus. Amen.  

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