Every year, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November. In spite of all the difficulties we may be experiencing as individuals and as a nation, I believe that it is important for us to reflect upon the many blessings we receive from God and to thank the one who is the giver of those blessings.
You probably remember the story of Thanksgiving's origin. In 1620, a boatload of 110 people left Holland for the New World and freedom. Forty-four of them were religious, so they were referred to as "the saints." The other 66 were not at all religious, so they were called "the strangers." But together, these saints and strangers made the difficult 65-day voyage across the Atlantic, and only one of them died en route.
Once they arrived in the New World, however, living proved to be much more difficult than the trip over. That first winter was hard, the snow was heavy, and by the time spring arrived, more than sixty of their number had died. Over the next few months, and through their own perseverance, along with friendship from the Native Americans, their crops flourished, and they were able to store enough food for the coming winter. In mid-October of 1621, Governor William Bradford called for a day of thanksgiving to be shared with the Native Americans. For three days they sang and celebrated and thanked God for God’s blessings.
Now imagine that! After a rugged, two-month trip, and a brutal winter that killed half their group, they celebrated and thanked God for God’s blessings! And the next year, when the harvest wasn't nearly so plentiful, and they had to share their short supply of food with newly arriving Pilgrims, they thanked God again. And the third year, when sun and drought scorched their crops, they gathered the community on November 29, 1623, for another day of thanksgiving and praise.
Thanksgiving has never been about wealth or health or comfort or prosperity. It has always been about thanking God for being there ... in times of plenty and in times of want ... in times of joy and in times of sorrow. Though the Pilgrims had difficult lives, they never lost sight of the God who loved them and traveled with them to a new land.
They were not "fair weather followers," these seventeenth-century people. They were faithful people who endured great difficulty, and they were grateful to a God who promised to meet them in whatever circumstances their lives encountered. They were concerned for their health and life and survival. They grieved the loss of loved ones. They worked hard at doing everything humanly possible to meet their survival needs. But they also trusted God ... and they thanked God ... as they met the uncertain future with confidence.
We sometimes fall into the trap of believing that we are living in the worst of times. But in reality, we ourselves have the ability to make these times good or bad. If we give in to the forces of fear and hate, and see everybody as our enemy, then we are helping to make these the worst of times. But if we overcome hatred for those who are different from us with the power of love, then we are helping to make these the best of times. The choice is ours. Will we give thanks and share God’s abundant blessings, or will we will we look at others with distrust and hatred, and allow fear and greed to rule our actions? It is no secret that our nation is drifting down the path of fear and hatred.
Perhaps we need to be reminded this Thanksgiving that our hope for the future rests in God,
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
Blessings and Peace,