“America’s Day of National Thanksgiving” (Deuteronomy 8:1-10)

Day of National Thanksgiving
Thursday, November 28, 2019

“America’s Day of National Thanksgiving” (Deuteronomy 8:1-10)

Ah, Thanksgiving! Turkey, football, movies, and the start of the holiday shopping season. No, wait, the holiday shopping season started back around Labor Day, I think. But seriously, is that what Thanksgiving has come to? Turkey, football, movies, and shopping? An opportunity to eat 2,000 calories in one meal, then fall asleep on the couch from all the tryptophan in the turkey? Or is it so guys can watch three football games in a row, from morning till evening? Or for the ladies to watch three Hallmark Christmas movies in a row? Then get up the next morning at 5:00 a.m. to go buy presents for people you don’t like, with money you don’t have, for stuff they don’t need? Thanksgiving has become the Eve of Black Friday. Turkey, football, movies, and shopping: Is that what Thanksgiving is all about?

Thanksgiving Day has fallen on hard times. Even Halloween seems to have eclipsed it in popularity. And the Christmas decorations and Christmas music on the radio and Christmas TV specials all started the day after Halloween. So Thanksgiving gets lost in the shuffle.

Oh, but it’s not as though Americans don’t like their Thanksgiving. They do. They like having the day off from work or school. They like being able to see their family and friends–well, except maybe for Uncle Fred, who gets the gas from the turkey, or Cousin Verlene, whose dentures make that clacking sound, or your vegan niece with the nose ring, who wants to argue politics over the pumpkin pie. But, for the most part, we Americans like our Thanksgiving. It’s just, “Don’t bother me with the ‘giving thanks to God’ bit.”

Well, I’ve got news for you: That “giving thanks bit” is the reason Thanksgiving Day exists! The purpose of this day is for Americans to gather in their churches and give thanks to God for his blessings on our country. That’s why Thanksgiving Day was started in the first place. This is “America’s Day of National Thanksgiving.”

But hardly anybody even thinks of that anymore, much less actually goes to church and gives thanks to God. What’s more, even some churches have surrendered Thanksgiving to the culture. If they have a Thanksgiving service at all, it’s lightly attended, and they have moved it to Wednesday evening, rather than on Thanksgiving Day itself, so as to not have giving thanks to God interfere with people’s Thanksgiving, if you can follow that strange logic.

Really, who wants to give thanks to God? Well, you do. You, dear Christians, you who are here in church this morning, you want to give thanks to God. Even if you grumbled a little bit getting here, because you have company coming over in a couple of hours, and you still haven’t made the mashed potatoes, you’re here nonetheless. So thank God for that, that you know it’s good and right to give thanks to God. In view of all his mercies, you realize, as you learned in the Catechism: “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him.”

So today is Thanksgiving Day. Or to be more precise, it is the Day of National Thanksgiving. That’s the official title of this holiday. In addition to all the personal blessings you and I have received, we especially want to thank God for his blessings on our nation. And they are many. In spite of all our problems, and we have them–abortion is still legal, homosexual “marriage” is legal, real marriage and the family are under much stress, Christianity is on the decline in our country–in spite of all those problems, America is still a very blessed nation. Blessed by God! So let’s give thanks to God for what we can be thankful for, for all the many blessings he continues to give us in spite of ourselves.

Let’s think of a few. For one, we live in a land that is rich in natural resources. Think of what Moses said to the people of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land: “The LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.”

And doesn’t that apply to us? God has given us a land even more abundant in resources. I’ve been to Israel, and it’s a beautiful land, to be sure. I’ve seen the hills and valleys and the olive trees. But I’ve also been all over America. I’ve seen the cornfields of Illinois, the agricultural valleys of California, the orange groves of Florida, the Great Lakes, the mighty Mississippi and the Missouri. Let me tell you, America does not have to take a back seat to any country when it comes to natural resources and scenic beauty. We are truly blessed. And if Moses told the Israelites, “You shall eat and be full,” then that is all the more the case for us, as you’ll realize later today at the end of that 2,000 calorie meal. “And you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” So let’s do that today.

What else can we be thankful for, on America’s Day of National Thanksgiving? Here’s what I think is the most important blessing, and it’s something we often take for granted: We still have the freedom in this country to gather in our churches and to hear the gospel preached freely, without persecution. We shouldn’t take that for granted, because that is not the case in other parts of the world. In China right now, Christians are being tortured and churches are being shut down. In Canada, the prime minister is openly hostile against Christians, because they oppose abortion. Even in our own country, in California, a legislator has proposed a resolution to make it illegal for pastors and others to speak against the LGBT agenda. Thank God we still have the religious liberty we do have here in this country and in the state of Missouri! Thank God that now the administration in Washington is not actively persecuting Christians, as a previous administration did. Let us give thanks to God for our freedom to practice the Christian religion, and let us pray that it continues and increases.

And here’s why religious liberty is the most important thing about America: Because the gospel of Christ is the most important thing in the world! Indeed, it’s the only thing that can give you life. This gospel is the saving message of God’s love for us in Christ. “For God so loved the world”–including America–“that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

Dear friends, the good news is that God’s own Son came into our world and suffered and died to set us free. Christ came for a bunch of ungrateful wretches who forget about God, who do not praise him as they ought, who are more concerned about stuffing their belly and buying their stuff than they are about giving thanks to the God who created them and cares for them. In other words, Jesus came for people like us. We could not erase the debt of our sin, but Jesus could, and he did. He took away your sin and canceled the debt, by his death on the cross. His resurrection shows the result of his atoning work, and that is life victorious from the grave. This gospel of Christ is the only saving power in the world. It removes your guilt before God. It lifts you from death to life. It gives you hope for the future and strength in the present to carry on. That this good news can be preached freely here in America, in relative peace and quietness–this is the best thing about living in our country.

Today, then, let’s be thankful for what we can be thankful for, and let’s pray about the rest. In fact, let’s pray about the bad stuff and then work to correct it. But the main thing today is to be thankful to God for all his blessings to us, as individuals and as families and as a nation.

So here’s an idea: Today when you sit down for that big Thanksgiving meal, maybe say a few things that you’re thankful to God for. Maybe it will include the fact you got to go to church today and hear the gospel and praise God. And then let others around the table chime in with what they’re thankful for, too.

And perhaps you’ll think of a few other things to be thankful for, even if you don’t say them out loud–like how you’re thankful that Uncle Fred is still around to enjoy the turkey, and how Cousin Verlene’s clacking dentures aren’t so bad after all. The niece with the nose piercing who wants to argue politics? Well, think of something, I guess; I can’t help you with that one.

But when everyone’s had a chance to say what they’re thankful for, then cap it all off by saying something like “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.” Or sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Now there’s a radical concept! Actually giving thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day! What’ll they think of next?

Published in: on November 27, 2019 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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