A world in shambles, uncertainty abounding, anxiety threatening to overtake the sane
composure of even the most noble of intentions, and there in the midst of it all you find the
Christian upon his knees offering thanks to God. There really is something special about this
time of year and the festive nature of celebrations rooted deeply and inextricably in the Christian
faith. Thanksgiving, though often overlooked as merely the sort of boring, pre-cursor to the
Christmas season, is in no way an inferior Christian celebration, but rather offers a look at how
the Christian pilgrim is able smile even with tears in the eye.
We call it ‘Turkey day’ and it is often thought of as a purely American holiday, a celebration of
God’s provision during the difficult first years of colonialization. I suppose turkeys must have
been in abundant supply. Yet the very nature of the holiday, that of giving thanks, has roots that
extend deeply into the Judeo Christian ethic and practice. Simply, thanksgiving is essential to the
Christian faith, and thus November 26th must be seen as a religious holiday.
This is notable in the Jewish festivals that required the Israelites from all the tribes to travel toJerusalem to express thanks to God for all that He has done. ‘The Psalms of Assent’ detail the joyous participation of the people in these festivals, and also show God’s consent to joyous
feasting. The Passover Feast was a time of remembrance and thanksgiving for God’s deliverance of the people from the slavery and tyranny of the Egyptians. The Harvest Festival was a time of thanksgiving for God’s provision while in the Promised Land. Finally, the Feast of Booths was a
time of thanksgiving and reembrace for God’s provision during the wilderness wanderings.
Rooted in the very socio-economic and moral foundations of Israel’s society was the idea of perpetual times of celebration and thanksgiving. These times were accompanied with holy me and feasts where God was pleased to bless His people. To say this is our heritage is to understate the rich theological underpinnings of our call and obligation to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us.
The claim here is that God is the giver of all good things, He is the one who alone provides for
our spiritual and physical needs. Any thanks we offer must begin at the source, the Giver of all
good things, which we confess as the One true God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Thanksgiving,
as an act, and as a holiday, falls squarely and unshakably upon the ground of the Christian
church, it is religious by its very nature.
But, to conclude that it is a holiday only for “the religious” would be a serious error. One in which the post-enlightenment dedication to the idea of the “self-made man,” has often found to be
the fertile ground for offering an excuse for the unbeliever to neglect any participation in
anything religious. We Christians have added to this malaise by largely abandoning holy
engagement with culture. Primarily this has been for the sake of avoiding uncomfortable
confrontation and thus our silence has spoken loudly in agreeing to this proposition that non-
religious people are excused from giving thanks because they labor under the delusion of self-
sufficiency. Sadly we let this go without a struggle. I insist that this holiday season we need to
stop avoiding uncomfortable confrontations and insist that all people recognize to whom their
thanks is due.
Nebuchadnezzar spent some time eating grass for buying into the self-made man theory of
independent achievement, and nobody sane wants to eat plants when there are so many delicious
animals to sustain the body and gratify the palate. Part of our Christian duty is to impose the
truth on a culture that is dead set on suppressing the truth. And one way we do this is by stating
plainly that not one thing you have, is ultimately the result of chance, good luck, or even hard
work. It is ultimately the result of God’s multi-faceted work of common and special grace that
He has lavishly poured out upon the world.
One suggestion that I have for you during this Thanksgiving holiday is one that is not unique
and it is likely already practiced in many homes. Take time to go around the table as each person
is asked, ‘What would like to thank God for?” This is especially good when you have
unbelievers at your table, it will teach your children how to confront the world in a spirit of love.
It forces us all, believers and unbelievers to really reckon with the religious nature of this
Holiday and express our thanks to God for His unwavering supply of all of our needs. Like the
Israelites living in the desert and depending on God for all their needs, so we find ourselves far
from home, often harried by our enemies, and yet God is faithful, and for this, we express our
thanks to Him.
In the meantime, go to church, love the truth, and help your neighbor.
[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Pastor Matt Davis at Reformed Baptist Church in Helena, MT]