Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday.
Turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, and sweet potatoes with an argument about whether they are actually yams. Then there’s the green beans topped with fried onions, cheese and baked in cream of mushroom sauce. I’m pretty sure this recipe disqualifies the green beans as a vegetable. Sweet rolls, dinner rolls, and rolling off the couch a few hours later for leftovers. Wait, who won the football game? I must have dozed off in a turkey coma. Pass the cranberry sauce please.
But it’s doing all of this with family that is the best. Some of our most meaningful and most ridiculous discussions have occurred during this annual gathering. Many times we’ll share something specific that we are thankful for, which is also nice, but Thanksgiving is about much more than that. It’s actually a reminder about our posture.
When George Washington gave his Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1789, he was instructed to do so by congress in order “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:” This proclamation was not some sort of perfunctory duty of a head of state, it was great leadership. Washington and the Congress understood that the new nation’s posture must be one of thanksgiving or else the nation would fail.
Thanksgiving is a posture. It is not merely a list of things we are grateful for, but it is an attitude, a guardrail on the road to success for a nation and also for an individual. Washington understood this as he continued in his address:
“And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.” – George Washington
A posture of thanksgiving is the foundation of these values he envisions for our national character: humility, empowerment, performance of duty, blessing, consistency, wisdom, justice, discretion, faithfulness, protection, guidance, efficiency, peace and harmony, education, true worship, ingenuity and invention, discovery and prosperity. Where these are missing, you will find a posture of thanksgiving is missing. Instead, you’ll find a posture of victimhood, cynicism and arrogance.
The holiday we now celebrate was inaugurated by President Lincoln exactly three score and fourteen years later to the day, October 3, 1863. He gave his Thanksgiving Proclamation during the height of the Civil War, a few months after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. After some discussion of the nation’s blessing, Lincoln would write:
“They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Our sins” primarily refers to american slavery, of which we had been unrepentant to God and also unrepentant to our own founding documents and ideals. But even in the course of civil war and what Lincoln believed was divine punishment and consequence for these national transgressions, he knew how important it was that we maintain a posture of thankfulness, even through the darkest of times. There could be no union without a thanksgiving posture.
The need for a posture of thanksgiving has not changed. Today, our nation is slouching more than it has in a long time, and we need to adjust our posture. Increasingly, we have a posture of victimhood and selfishness. We are ungrateful and jealous, unrepentant and prideful. This posture is contrary to who we are called to be and it is having an effect. Just turn on the news and witness the absurdity on all sides.
This year, let us renew our posture of thanksgiving. When we are thankful, we remember that we are a people called to lead with our freedoms, in humility and truth, with sacrifice and generosity and strength. When we see or experience injustice, we must not wallow in it or leverage it to our own petty interests or useless ideologies. This is short sighted and the opposite of a thankful posture. Instead, a thankful people work through their differences to solve problems rather than affix blame for a political or financial advantage. A grateful people know they are beneficiaries of life, liberty and renewed opportunities, and that the benefactor of these rights is self-evident. Only in thankfulness for these things can we be just and faithful and proper in our administration of justice and mercy.
Let us be thankful, for we are not a nation of victims and of the fearful, but we are a nation of helpers and of the brave. Our desire is to use our liberty to repent of our own injustices, and to shine a light on injustice elsewhere, wherever it may be. With a foundation of thankfulness, we will have the moral authority to do so, bringing the hope of resolution and reconciliation, of reconstruction and redemption.
Finally, let us be grateful to God that, in spite of our current national sins of which there are many, we are still blessed more than any in history. Perhaps our apparent decline is a new divine punishment, perhaps it is mere consequence. Regardless, let us fix our posture, being penitent and thankful to the Living God that we still have time to do so. We have so much to offer a world that still longs to be free, including the Good News that frees us all from tyranny and hate and the sting of death.
I hope you have a happy holiday, and not just one with food and family and friends, but with a renewed sense of purpose that comes from a Thanksgiving posture.