Thanksgiving has a unique history. It’s the only American holiday which is political in origin but religious in expression. A civil thanksgiving feast originated with the Pilgrims in 1621. It was renewed by George Washington in 1789 and codified by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. On each occasion there was explicit mention of God in the state proclamation.
Atheists are not excluded from celebrating Thanksgiving. It’s universally recognized that grateful people are happier, healthier, more productive and longer-lived than their unappreciative, self-centered, ungrateful counterparts. People whose lives overflow with thanksgiving make better spouses, better parents, better coworkers, better bosses, and better friends. There’s no dispute. Grateful is better.
Our nonreligious neighbors tend to focus more on giving thanks for rather than giving thanks to. But if you listen closely, even secular expressions of thanksgiving imply a Giver of the gifts we appreciate, even if that giver is nature itself. Thanksgiving is helpful for thinking about our origin and our purpose. It points us inescapably toward God.
The big idea in Sunday’s message will be that giving thanks is rooted in Jesus (Colossians 2:6-7). Get ready for a shock. If you’re not a Jesus person and you’re already thankful, God has been active behind the scenes in your life. Having created you in his image, he has planted spiritual qualities in you, preparing you for a life of faith. By building gratitude inside you, God is pursuing you, preparing you for a life of faith and worship.
If you’re not a person of gratitude, is it possible that it’s not because of your suffering and difficult circumstances? Could it be that ungrateful people are just resisting God’s work in and around them? Some of the most humble, thankful people you’ll ever meet are those who have suffered the most in this world.
We might argue that gratitude is the first spiritual quality from God. Thanksgiving is not listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Perhaps that is because thanksgiving is a root of the Spirit. In fact, gratitude is so rooted in Christ that the celebration of what we call communion is known around the world as the Eucharist, which means “Thanksgiving.” Jesus gave thanks for the bread and cup. Thanksgiving is the essence of worship. Stated negatively, the first stage of depravity is a refusal to glorify God or give thanks to him (Romans 1:21). Ingratitude causes us to miss the very purpose of our existence.
This holiday season, let’s build a tower of Thanksgiving, rooted in Christ Jesus.