For some Thanksgiving Day will once again be a time set aside to bow one’s head in thanks to God for blessings received from the Almighty God. But for others it will simply be another holiday. What makes the difference? Is it that some have experienced greater loss than others as storms ravaged the nation? Or maybe we latched on to the idea that if we tried really hard to live a good life for God we could expect an added blessing of health or prosperity, forgetting the Apostle Paul’s inspired words, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" Romans 11:34-35
What makes the difference? If only I had the mind of Solomon to figure it out? Is it the circumstance? Is it the social economic situation? No for we have met people regardless of circumstance or economic blessing who are just pleasant to be around while others are not. Some are a ray of sunshine and others like an E ’ore seem to have a grey cloud hovering over their head.
What was it that led those early Pilgrims to bow their heads in thanksgiving that first Thanksgiving Day in the New World? Some of you may recall their personal hardships. That first winter was brutal. Governor Bradford wrote, “That which was most sad and lamentable was that in two or three months’ time, half our company died….sometimes two or three a day.” Food was rationed by the kernel. And then in the summer of 1621 after a good growing season, the bedraggled survivors paused that November to give thanks. To the Indians of course, but above all to God in the words of Bradford, “Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."
The early settlers of New England survived, prospered, and helped birth a new nation. Less then a century after the Revolution and the formation of the United States, the new nation was torn asunder by a terrible civil war.
In 1863 the future of the war and the nation hung in the balance. President Lincoln was increasingly unpopular and his support in Congress and among his generals was sinking. It was uncertain that the nation would survive. Few families escaped the dreadful consequences of the war. The slaughter and maiming of a generation of young men both north and south defies description. Nevertheless, in November 1863, the President called for a national day of thanksgiving. The first national Day of Thanksgiving. In President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, these words, “No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fitting and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.”
So what is it that makes the difference? Simply put an attitude of gratitude toward our Creator unlike the young woman I met who claims she no longer sins. The common mark of those whose attitude is one of gratitude is found in those who know their indebtedness to God, who gave His One and Only Son for them. Knowing that in Jesus, we have His forgiveness and love for all eternity. A Father’s love which invites us as His blood bought children to feast at our heavenly Thanksgiving Table.
Such was the confidence of my brother pastor, Martin Rinkart, from Germany, who in the midst of misery exhibited an attitude of gratitude which draws me close to him and His God. Remarkable he wrote the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God,” during the time he was the sole surviving minister of the village during the plague of 1637. He conducted as many as 50 funerals a day, including his wife and children.
God grant each of us an altitude of gratitude for His undeserved love in Christ.
Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us and keep us in His Grace and guide us when perplexed and free us from all ills in this world and the next.”