A message text of November 24, 2019 by Melvin Gaines:
For audio of this message, click here.
We’re at the time of year when we begin to talk about the onset of the holiday season. The holiday season at the end of the year seems to start earlier and earlier as the years go by—Halloween almost seems to be the new kickoff date for the Christmas shopping season—but we are now approaching Thanksgiving in just four days, and the holidays move along with such a blur that Thanksgiving seems to be more and more overlooked.
Halloween, just over 4 ½ weeks ago, has now become a big business. It is not even a real holiday. It often falls on a weekday, and it is often very cold and wet outside, but that doesn’t matter. Adults are into costumes, ghosts, goblins and parties. Consumers also spend big money on Halloween cards, as my wife will attest, for both children and adults, and this year, on average, according to the National Retail Federation, an average consumer spent over $86 for Halloween.1 That’s in the top 10 for consumer spending over the course of the year. Thanksgiving is statistically overshadowed by all of the commercialism of Halloween, Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season. Christmas is clearly the most popular holiday, but based upon overall interest and comments on thetoptens.com, Halloween is second, and Thanksgiving is a distant third just ahead of Easter.2
It made me think about what Thanksgiving was meant to be in the first place. First, the act of sitting down with a group of people and having a meal was not created back in the days of the early American settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. The earliest documented harvest festivals were conducted by Spaniards and the French in the 16th Century. This practice was brought to America by the early settlers in Virginia as early as 1607, and English settlers, known as the London Company in Charles City County Virginia proclaimed, “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned…in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
What we now refer to as Thanksgiving in America became a common practice of celebration with a harvest feast after a successful growing season, which is very similar to the Jewish Festival of Harvest and the Festival of Shelters as noted in Deuteronomy 16:9-15, which is commonly referred to today as the Feast of Weeks. These celebrations covered several weeks. The Festival of Harvest begins about seven weeks after the first harvesting of grain, and the Festival of Shelters begins after the completion of the harvest for the season. Let’s look at the context of the Festival of Shelters in Deuteronomy 16:13-15:
Deuteronomy 16:13-15 NLT
13 “You must observe the Festival of Shelters for seven days at the end of the harvest season, after the grain has been threshed and the grapes have been pressed. 14 This festival will be a happy time of celebrating with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows from your towns. 15 For seven days you must celebrate this festival to honor the Lord your God at the place he chooses, for it is he who blesses you with bountiful harvests and gives you success in all your work. This festival will be a time of great joy for all.
This festival was also referred, according to Exodus 23:16, as the Festival of the Final Harvest or Festival of Ingathering. Today, this celebration is referred to as Sukkot, which is a floating week on the Jewish calendar celebrated anytime between mid-September (on our Gregorian calendar) and mid-October over a 7-day period.
But note the theme of this festival. The celebration is to be done with close family and extended family and may include people from all walks of life and status. It is a time of recognition for God’s presence and all of His blessings. It is a time to give honor and glory to God for all of your success. It is a time of great joy.
Thanksgiving has evolved over time here in America and gained more recognition over time just after the Revolutionary War. The Continental-Confederation Congress issued a number of national days of prayer and thanksgiving throughout the year, which was the precursor to today’s versions of Thanksgiving and the National Day of Prayer. President George Washington made a proclamation on October 3, 1789, which reads in part:
“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. 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…for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed…and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.” 3
The purpose of Thanksgiving is not just to be thankful to have a day of rest, eat a big, delicious meal, and then collapse on the floor with a tryptophan buzz. Of course, it is much more than that.
Thanksgiving, by its design, is to give God the glory for everything that we are and for everything that we have.
Whether we have a little or a lot, we have great wealth in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Wealth beyond measure.
Thanksgiving is a festival gathering to offer a time of reverence and recognition of His blessings upon us. It is a time to give honor and glory to God.
Let’s look at the purpose of the festival gathering as we saw with Sukkot and with the early purpose of Thanksgiving in America. These are to be known as times for celebration.
Now, we won’t hesitate to celebrate when there is good news. Well, we are reminded that we are to reflect upon not how much we have, but instead be grateful that we have anything at all. And even further, that we have Jesus even if we have nothing at all.
16 I heard, and I trembled within;
my lips quivered at the sound.
Rottenness entered my bones;
I trembled where I stood.
Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress
to come against the people invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there is no fruit on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though the flocks disappear from the pen
and there are no herds in the stalls,
18 yet I will celebrate in the Lord;
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
Can you still celebrate in the Lord when you have little or nothing to show for it?
Please remember those who are less fortunate than you at this time of the year, and even take note of them all year long.
You have more than a lot of people. You have reason to celebrate. Don’t forget your life and your health.
Can you praise God in the same way as the psalmist here?
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heaven!
2 Praise him for his mighty works;
praise his unequaled greatness!
3 Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
praise him with the lyre and harp!
4 Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
praise him with strings and flutes!
5 Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
6 Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
The true test of faith and trust in Jesus Christ is to give Him praise in good times and bad.
Thanksgiving is a true test of faith in Jesus Christ whether the harvest is plentiful, or the harvest is few.
One of Kool and the Gang’s most popular songs talked about a celebration: “Celebrate good times! C’mon! Let’s celebrate!”
What are we to celebrate? God’s Lordship.
1 Samuel 12:22-24 CSB
22 The Lord will not abandon his people, because of his great name and because he has determined to make you his own people.
23 “As for me, I vow that I will not sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you. I will teach you the good and right way. 24 Above all, fear the Lord and worship him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things he has done for you.
13 When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.
Thanksgiving is a true holiday, as in holy day, if you give the day its proper due. It rivals Christmas in its level of importance, as we give specific recognition to Jesus Christ.
For many, Thanksgiving is just a fancy meal and for guys a slew of football games. You get out of Thanksgiving what you put into it.
But I hope you can see that Thanksgiving is not just a day of gathering for a meal, but also as a day of charity, as well. Remember that the festival of Sukkot pulled together widows and orphans as well as servants and foreigners. Who are these people in our society today? They are largely individuals who are often less fortunate than we are.
That’s where we come in.
What is it to live as a servant of Jesus Christ? It is to live a humble life before others—looking outside of yourself and having the mind of Christ in service to others for Him. If you think about it, Thanksgiving is the perfect way to show the love of Jesus Christ before others when we give our time and serve meals to those who are used to merely fending for themselves. It sets the stage for people to see the love of Christ within the entire holiday season.
So now you see how Thanksgiving needs to have a place at the forefront of our hearts and minds when it comes to the celebration of God, in Jesus Christ, for all that He has done for us. We see that Thanksgiving is more than just a big meal. It is a festival! It is a time of reverence and honor for our Lord. It is a time to say “thank you” for all of His provision.
Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks, because He has given Jesus Christ, His Son.
1 National Retail Federation. (2019). Retail Holiday and Seasonal Trends. [online] Available at: https://nrf.com/insights/retail-holiday-and-seasonal-trends [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].
2 Thetoptens.com. (2019). Top 10 Best Holidays – TheTopTens®. [online] Available at: https://www.thetoptens.com/favorite-holidays/ [Accessed 21 Nov. 2019].
3 Wikipedia contributors. (2019, November 21). Thanksgiving (United States). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:58, November 21, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Thanksgiving_(United_States)&oldid=927246509
4 Moen, D. (1995). Don Moen – Give Thanks. [online] Genius. Available at: https://genius.com/Don-moen-give-thanks-lyrics [Accessed 22 Nov. 2019].