Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving: we have celebration day for it every year.  It’s a very American holiday, and it is deeply ingrained in our culture.  We devote a day just to thanksgiving - at least that is what we claim.  You wouldn’t think it would be all that difficult.  But it turns out to be difficult than you might first think.

Think about what the origin of the word “holiday.”  It is a day that is, for some reason or other, “holy.” Besides the demands that holy things can make on us, there are other reasons why “holy” days can make people a little uncomfortable.

The existence of the “holy” implies the existence of God.  When you start talking about God, try as you might NOT to identify this God, it becomes very hard to avoid that question at some point.

A “holy” day brings up this very question, a question asked and answered very often in the Old Testament: just who is God?  Is everything God?  Are human beings their own god?  Are there lots of gods, one for one locality and a different one for another locality?  Holidays bring up these very sticky questions that a lot of modern people would just rather avoid.

Still, people love “holidays” because we get to change our routines and can, if we allow ourselves, have a little rest from the normal “grind.”  So we run into a very interesting, and somewhat depressing, modern phenomenon.  People want  holidays, but we wish they were just “days” and not “holy.”

I have noticed how this has been handled lately.  Christmas has become just “the season” for which we send “season’s greetings.”  It’s a pretty slick trick if you think about it.  You don’t have to bother about that worrisome, politically incorrect “Christ” part of Christmas.  Thanksgiving has faired no better.  It has become “turkey day.”  But this nifty little arrangement takes the “thanks” out of Thanksgiving.

There is, however, a little milder version of the holiness avoidance syndrome (you can call this H.A.S. if you like).  This milder version keeps the word thanksgiving intact, and it even let’s us talk about being thankful, but we just don’t specify TO WHOM we are being thankful.  While you can try that, at some point inquiring minds want to know, “thankful to whom?”

For those who think much about it (and many do not) Thanksgiving Day and the whole season is a traumatic experience for our society.  The old saying tells us that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but the apostle Paul tells us that the skids to hell are greased with thanklessness.  You can find that in Romans 1:21.  People are sliding down those horrible rails all the time.  Again, there is no excuse for this, but if you think about it, it has a certain kind of understandability because thankfulness is very hard for us humans.

Thankfulness is especially difficult when we have so much stuff.  We are so accustomed to our abundance of stuff that we don’t even realize just how much stuff we really have.  When I take a moment to think about it, I am awed by what I see in department stores and supermarkets.  Almost anything you could ever want is there, and even those of us the most modestly provided can buy everything we need and much of what we want.  The only reason we don’t notice this abundance is that we are in the habit of having.

Even people like my parents, who lived through the “Great Depression” (hey, what was so great about it?) were VERY aware of abundance when they were young adults.  But the memory of depravation is fading, even with some of them.  Those of later generations have no memory of depravation.  Let’s face it - we have STUFF, so much stuff, in fact, that it rather engulfs us sometimes, making us unable to move around in our houses, making it impossible to see some of the best things in life.  That doesn’t make stuff somehow evil.  It just reveals that we can be.

You might think that people with very little stuff would have a more difficult time being thankful.  But surprisingly, the Bible presents just the opposite picture.  Notice what the Apostle Paul says:

    Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  (1 Tim 6:17)

It is those with much who are more likely to be ensnared by thanklessness.  That’s a little ironic if you think about it, but it’s true.  It’s not only true, but especially dangerous for Christians in our society, because we have all the stuff, and we also have salvation that comes from the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving Day is a good idea.  But if you think through what it implies, it is not easy, because it makes us think about the things that often make us the most uncomfortable.  But that is part of what makes it a good idea.

Have a very happy and very uncomfortable Thanksgiving!