Our culture has slowly sacrificed Thanksgiving on the altar of consumerism over the years. This has been difficult for me to watch.
What used to be an early rise on the day after for mega-deals at big chain stores all of a sudden backed up to long lines forming that evening for midnight door-busters. Over the last couple of years, though, folks no longer have to wait for the clock to strike Black Friday, as doors now open on what used to be a full-day pause for reflection and gratitude. In many ways the skipping or shortchanging of Thanksgiving is rewarded with great deals.
Each year it seems that shelves are lined with Christmas green and red earlier and earlier. Christmas trees and decorations go up and radio stations begin playing holiday tunes not long after Halloween ends. And this is not because our culture is super anxious to turn its attention to a manger in Bethlehem.
As far as consumerism goes, there’s not much stock in Thanksgiving. And that’s really on purpose, I think. That’s kind of the point. It’s not a day for giving and receiving lavish gifts. It’s supposed to be a day for giving thanks. It’s a day to focus on all that we already have. But while our culture has lost the need for a whole day-long pause for such sentimentalism (or any pause at all), I think it is important for followers of Jesus to guard this day and carefully celebrate it.
I believe Thanksgiving should calibrate our hearts for the Christmas season.
Thanksgiving is closely associated with the idea of blessings. The day offers us an opportunity to remember our blessings, and to return thanks for them. Everyone has probably been in a group of people, going around the room, taking turns in sharing a blessing for which they are thankful. Those answers typically include family, good jobs, a home, food we love, relative safety, material possessions, etc. While such a list certainly should garner the offering of thanks, it barely scratches the surface of the depth of blessing for the one who is in Christ!
I noticed this past week that in the “thanksgiving” portions of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, there exists one primary focus. Listen to how he gives thanks in his first letter to the Corinthians, for example:
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge–even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you–so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:4-9)
In many of his prayers for believers, Paul prays that they would abound in Thanksgiving. Every one of these prayers are in the context of the gospel. We learn very little about the people Paul prays for in these passages, but what we do know about them are the eternal blessings that we share with them, if we are in Christ.
What is THE blessing we experience through the gospel? More than eternal life, more than rescue from our sins, more than spiritual growth, the gospel restores to us the greatest blessing of all–God’s presence.
When we focus on the blessing of God’s presence during Thanksgiving, we are reminded of how God condescended to us, despite our sin that had banished us from fellowship with him, in order to rescue us and bring us back to himself. And where does that cause us to focus? On a manger in Bethlehem.
Our gratitude for this inexpressible gift calibrates our heart for the celebration of Emmanuel, God with us.
My question for you as we approach Thanksgiving this year really has little to do with the timing of decorations or Christmas music. It has everything to do with your heart. What will calibrate your heart this week for the Christmas season? Consumerism or thanksgiving?
This week, set the tone for your family for the upcoming Christmas season. Allow this season and celebration to clarify your heart as you prepare to encounter a thousand distractions from the true blessing of God’s presence.
Allow Thanksgiving to calibrate your heart for Christmas.