It has been some time since I tuned in to the current understanding and “status” of Thanksgiving. I always had the understanding that it was primarily a harvest festival at which time we gave thanks to the Lord of the harvest for his provision.
After all, this is one holiday that officially began with the Pilgrims and has continued since. Governor William Bradford of Massachusetts proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving three years after the landing at Plymouth Rock to “render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all his blessings.”
George Washington recommended, by request of both houses of Congress, that “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God…that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for his kind care and protection of the people of this country.”
In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday of November to be the official “National Thanksgiving Day.”
Congress ratified this day in 1941.
With the taking of “Christ” out of Christmas, I should not have been surprised to read this sentence on the Internet Wikipedia: “While perhaps religious in origin, Thanksgiving is now primarily identified as a secular holiday.” Just another opportunity for us, as a nation, to celebrate family and friends with feasting and football…and fail to thank the One who not only created us, but sustains us and provides for us day to day.
As we celebrate this national holiday of Thanksgiving, may we do so humbly and penitently, understanding that Almighty God is the focus of the day. As we thank the One who provides all freedom, as a nation and as individuals, may we take to heart Dr. Billy Graham’s prayer for our nation.
“Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it politics. We have coveted our neighbors’ possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!”
The Rev. Paul Johnson is pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. Sermon notes is a column by local religious leaders.