Thanksgiving 2020 may look different from our traditional ones. With the pandemic surging again and putting limits on travel and large gatherings, more simple celebrations are anticipated.
The most recent guidelines from the CDC as of this writing recommends immediate family only: “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household.” They say beyond that, masks and social distancing should be used.
And even with smaller gatherings, the division our country is experiencing may raise its head among family members.
Despite the difficult times, we still have reason to be thankful. We will look at why giving thanks is so important to God, and to us.
First, on a lighter note, here are some turkey facts I thought you’d enjoy:
- Turkeys spend the night in trees. They fly to the ground at first light and feed until mid-morning.
- They start gobbling before sunrise and continue through most of the morning. Males make a gobbling noise to attract females; females make a clicking sound.
- Their field of vision is 270 degrees. The wild turkey has excellent hearing. A turkey can run up to 25 miles per hour and fly for short distances at up to 55 miles per hour. However, domesticated or farm-raised turkeys cannot fly.
- A mature turkey has around 3,500 feathers. The Apache Indians considered the turkey timid, and wouldn’t eat it or use its feathers on their arrows.
- The male is called a “tom,” the female a “hen,” and the baby a “poult.” Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird of the United States, but Thomas Jefferson opposed this idea. It is believed that Franklin then named the male turkey “tom” to spite Jefferson.
- Turkeys contain L-tryptophan, an amino acid which produces sleepiness.
Many of us will be eating our share of turkey or ham and all the fixings that go along with it (and with smaller gatherings, we may be eating more than our share).
The holiday our sovereign God mandates
According to surveys, Christmas is America’s favorite holiday. Yet it may surprise you to learn that it was not celebrated until 336 A.D., and did not become popular in America until the 1860s. And no one is sure when Jesus’ birth actually occurred. It is observed on December 25 because early Christian leaders wanted to replace Saturnalia, a popular pagan holiday observed on that day.
In fact, most of our holidays are not found in Scripture: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, Presidents’ Day, Groundhog Day—none are in God’s word. Even Easter, the most significant day in human history, is not addressed in the Bible as a holiday but as a daily celebration. It is a glorious and wonderful thing to celebrate the birth of Jesus every day, as well as his death and resurrection.
But Thanksgiving is the one observance which is commanded by our Lord, absolutely mandated by the Scriptures: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5.18). Thanksgiving is the will of God.
Why is thanksgiving so important to God? How can it be more important to us? For this simple fact: thanksgiving is the key to the presence and power of God. The power you need for your life and problems today.
In Luke 17, Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem when they encountered ten lepers (vv. 11–12). Leprosy in the Bible could be Hansen’s disease, a bacterial disease which affects the nerves and upper respiratory tract, producing skin lesions and damaging skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. But the word also applied to a large variety of skin ailments such as psoriasis.
Fearing contagion, people isolated lepers from society (Leviticus 13:45–46; Numbers 5:2–4), so they lived together for protection and provision of needs. They had apparently heard of Jesus’ healing ministry, including his compassion for lepers (Luke 5:12–15), so they stood at a distance and called to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13).
When he saw them, he said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (v. 14). This was the action required of a leper who had been healed of his leprosy, so the priest could certify him to be clean and allow him to rejoin society. In other words, he asked them to believe that they were healed and act accordingly. When they received his healing power through such faith, “they were cleansed.”
Faith does not earn the blessing of God, but it is needed to receive such grace and mercy.
Then “one of them,” the Samaritan, did three things (vv. 15–16):
- He praised God with a loud voice.
- He threw himself at Jesus’ feet. This was an admission that he was now his Lord.
- He thanked him. By crediting him with his miraculous healing, he was acknowledging him as God.
Jesus responded: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (v. 19). His faith “restored” him or “made him whole.” The nine were healed physically; the thankful Samaritan was healed spiritually and completely.
Thanksgiving makes us whole.
Why we join the nine
There are many reasons why we are like the nine who did not return to thank Jesus for their healing. Let’s look at some of them.
Self-sufficiency is the enemy of thanksgiving. In our story, the nine took the actions which led to their healing. Jesus did not touch them—this was their work. It’s easy to think that we have earned what we have, that prosperity is the result of our hard work. But it’s not so.
Did you deserve to have physical abilities and not challenges? To be born in America and not North Korea? To have parents who love you and not abuse you? To have the privileges and opportunities you enjoy today? When was the last time you thanked God for the circumstances and provisions you enjoy each day?
Busyness is the enemy of thanksgiving. The lepers had much to do. They needed to be examined by the priests and readmitted to society. Then they had to find their families, begin life with them again, find and begin jobs—in short, do all the things which would reinitiate life. They were too busy to return and give thanks to Jesus.
It’s easy for me to be the same way. We are busy people, aren’t we? I once heard about an executive who ate his lunch while making his way through the line in the company’s kitchen—when it came time to pay, he was finished with his meal. I confess to you that my first thought was admiration.
When was the last time you made time for thanksgiving to God?
Spiritual ignorance is the enemy of thanksgiving. In our text, only one was “made whole.” The others missed all that God had for them. I don’t give thanks because I don’t realize how much I need to.
What are the benefits of gratitude?
Why join the one
Thanksgiving is required by Scripture. We are instructed to give thanks not “for” all circumstances, but “in” them (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Jesus in sweat drops of blood when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest; on the cross he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Bible does not say that all things are good, but that for those who love God all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).
Why is thanksgiving required in all things?
Thanksgiving leads us into the presence of God. Psalm 100: we “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.”
The “gates” of the Temple were the first entry point; the “courts” were the area where worship was given. When we worship the Lord, giving thanks to him, we are able to enter past the gates and into the courts of the Almighty.
This is how we enter his presence, and experience his power. This is how we meet with God. In this way and no other. Thanksgiving unlocks the gates of heaven. It is their only key.
The “songs of ascent” were sung for just this purpose. Psalms 120-134 were sung by the people as they ascended to Jerusalem (2500 feet above sea level) from the valleys below and then up the steps to the Temple.
Some of these steps remain—the very steps on which Jesus climbed. They are fascinating—the builders constructed them with two normal steps, then a long step; two normal steps, then a long step. The result was that the people were forced to go slowly and reverently, thinking and praying and praising as they went. They literally came into the courts of God with thanksgiving.
Praise leads to the power of God.
Is Thanksgiving a holiday or a holy day for you? Is it an annual event or a daily experience? When you see who God is, and what he does in the past, present, and future, can you hold back your thanks and praise?
Does he not deserve our attitude of gratitude, thanksgiving as a daily experience and lifestyle? This is how you experience God, in all his holiness and power, grace and glory.
This is the one holiday God requires.