Thanksgiving: You Can’t Sell Gratitude

As I write, the Halloween decorations are being taken down and the Christmas decorations are going up. Halloween candy is selling at half price to clear the way for Christmas candy. Yet again, the marketing steamroller of these mega-profitable holidays has gone right over Thanksgiving and squashed it.

It’s hard to make money on Thanksgiving, unless you’re a turkey or cranberry farmer. It’s a holiday built on the sense that we have received much, that God has, for His own inscrutable reasons, been good to us. It is a time to reflect on what we have, and how we got it, and at the heart of it all is the God who gives us what we have, directly or indirectly. The God who created us with gifts and abilities that enable us to provide for our own needs as well as the needs of those we love. You can’t sell gratitude. You don’t make money on thankfulness. No wonder retailers fast forward from October 31 to December 25 and bypass November completely.

Thanksgiving, it seems to me, should be a quiet holiday, a time for grateful people to share meals together and make good use of the traditional fruits of fall harvest– apples, pumpkins, potatoes, and squashes. Turkeys too.

One of the most intimate things human beings do is eating together. In traditional societies, an invitation to share a meal with someone at their home was not just to eat food together, but an offer of friendship. Such hospitality had an almost sacramental quality, where an invitation to dinner at someone’s house was an opening of that person’s heart. Food became something more than just something to chew on.

Maybe you’re thinking that the Thanksgiving dinner you’ll be going to won’t be warm and friendly. Maybe there are family tensions and estrangements that are only temporarily put aside; maybe your shared meal will be awkward, and the pleasantries strained, if not phony. Never mind. The meal itself has a healing quality to it, despite family frictions and personal histories. It is a feast, and, even if the hearts of those who come to share it don’t or can’t enter into it appropriately, it still is a feast–a festival that recognizes, however dimly, that God is good, that His creation is good, and that God loves His creation enough to send His Son into it, who invites us to join him in another, greater feast which he asked us to eat regularly in remembrance of him.

Thanksgiving originated as a sacred meal that served as a vivid reminder of God’s presence, providence and blessing to those pilgrims who survived that first, terrible year in Plymouth Colony. Let this Thanksgiving meal be the same for you. Let it be, in your heart, the recognition that God has been faithful and good. Let it be a meal of hope looking forward to better things. Even if everyone else at the meal sees only food on the table, make sure that you have eyes to see beyond the food and even the people sitting there to what that food means, and Who’s hospitality it is, finally, that is being offered and to Whom we offer thanks.

And, to have such eyes is to have the eyes you need to see the star the magi saw, that leads you to Bethlehem, to the birth of a baby. . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Blessings to you all

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