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Happy Thanksgiving to all!

In case it might be of interest, I am pasting below the fact-filled article I recently wrote on Thanksgiving for our church newsletter.

Comments welcome.

Dear Church Family,

As I write this, Thanksgiving Day is only four days away. The origins of Thanksgiving Day are shrouded in mystery. The Pilgrims and Native Americans did share a feast in 1621, but the surviving eyewitness reports from those who attended that “first Thanksgiving†do not provide us with a detailed historical account of the event. Consequently, there is much we don’t know. We don’t even know if turkey was on the menu that day. Some people claim that this feast was to thank the Native Americans for their help. There may be some truth in that claim. Yet, it must be remembered that the Pilgrims left their homes and made the perilous trip across the Atlantic for the purpose of obtaining the freedom to worship the Triune God without interference from the government. The gratitude of such people would certainly have been expressed primarily to God!

The official beginning of Thanksgiving Day in the USA dates back to October 3, 1863, when—due largely to the persistent efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale—President Lincoln made Thanksgiving Day an annual, national holiday. However, Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison had previously called the nation to days of prayer, and/or thanksgiving, and/or repentance. When one reads these decrees from our first, second, fourth, and sixteenth presidents, it’s striking how openly religious they are! Whatever “separation of church and state†meant to our those GREAT presidents, it certainly did not mean that presidents could not urge the nation to prayer, to repentance, and to express gratitude to God!

Jefferson, our second president, did not proclaim national days of prayer, when he was president. However, in 1779, when he was serving as governor of Virginia, Jefferson did sign a proclamation in which he recommended, “THURSDAY the 9th of December next, to be a day of publick and solemn THANKSGIVING to Almighty God, for his mercies, and of PRAYER, for the continuance of his favour and protection to these United States†(founders.archives.gov). Jefferson was not against prayer or religion; Jefferson was against the federal government mandating religion in any way. In his now famous “Letter to the Danbury Baptists,†Jefferson quotes with approval from the First Amendment which states, “… Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…â€

A lot has changed between then and now! Much of our society jumps directly from Halloween to Christmas—as if Thanksgiving Day did not even exist. When Thanksgiving Day is mentioned—especially in the mainstream media, it’s often referred to as “Turkey Day,†a phrase that completely misses the point of the holiday!

For Christians, Thanksgiving is much more than one day a year. For Christians, thanksgiving—heart-felt gratitude expressed to God—is an essential part of the lifestyle God commands. The great Bible scholar F. F. Bruce (Word Biblical Commentary, 1-2 Thes., 124) states, “Ingratitude is one of the features of pagan depravity in Rom. 1.21; the children of God are expected to ‘abound in thanksgiving’ (Col. 2.7).â€

Colossians 3:15–17 expresses well the centrality of gratitude in the Christian life. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him†(NIV-2011).

Everyone has a glass that is part empty and part full. Let’s make a deliberate effort to give God more gratitude for the blessings we have. And let’s make a deliberate effort to give God more gratitude and for the eternal future God promises.

Love, grace, and peace in Christ to us all!

Rev. Dr. Smith
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