The United States of America has a long history of thanksgiving, and not just on the fourth Thursday of November. Independent of any official designation of Thanksgiving Day, individuals, families and communities in this free country have always expressed their heartfelt gratitude to the Lord for his unending blessings. But it’s nice that we celebrate a national day for that explicit purpose.
It is especially appropriate during challenging times. Abraham Lincoln, in the middle of the Civil War, designated the annual holiday as we know it today and called for it to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. The following is an excerpt from his October 3, 1863 address. You can read the entire address here.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, …the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; …They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy…and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
Today, we are living through a civil war of a different sort. The people of the United States are divided, not geographically on opposing sides of the Mason-Dixon line, but culturally, economically, politically and spiritually. The battlefields are not Pennsylvania farmlands but newsrooms, social media, radio waves and opinion polls.
What will it take to face our current challenges and to restore “peace, harmony, tranquility and Union”?
President Obama, in his Thanksgiving Day proclamation last year, urged us to remember the contributions of Native Americans, the strength of preceding generations, our military troops, and kindness and compassion toward each other – all good. But ultimately, Thanksgiving Day is a recognition that it is God to whom we are thankful for…everything. Last year’s proclamation concluded with the following paragraph.
As Americans gather for the time-honored Thanksgiving Day meal, let us rejoice in the abundance that graces our tables, in the simple gifts that mark our days, in the loved ones who enrich our lives, and in the gifts of a gracious God. Let us recall that our forebears met their challenges with hope and an unfailing spirit, and let us resolve to do the same.
Can we find unity as we lift our eyes to “the gifts of a gracious God” and learn from the “unfailing spirit” or our forebears? It seems to be a good place to start.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14