“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 ESV). This simple verse defines the American day known simply as Thanksgiving. Yet, without the revelation of God in the Bible there would be no understanding of giving thanks.
No religion or culture in history has dedicated a moment to give thanks simply for the joy of giving thanks. I do not mean that they did not celebrate a bountiful harvest, they did, or that they did not celebrate receiving rain or children or any other “good” things in life, they did. But they did not understanding the concept of giving thanks for the joy of having a relationship with God.
It did not begin with the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks or even the Romans. The ancient pagan world had no concept of a beneficent God. Their gods and goddesses were “super” but still men and women who arbitrarily inflicted harm or blessing according to their current whims. The cultures that worshiped such merciless and capricious beings could only mirror the same merciless values.
It was not until God began to reveal Himself to the Hebrews via the Mosaic Law that a special significance was placed on thanksgiving via the Thanks Offering. This offering, performed over centuries and observed by other cultures who came into contact with the Jews, prepared men to understand the God Who created them and Who would provide a way of salvation for them.
This was perfected in Jesus Christ during His time on earth and was, and is, mirrored by those who worship Him and are called by His name. The growth of the true churches based on the writings of His apostles emphasized this concept of thanksgiving. Not because you “got” something you wanted but because Jesus was giving you something you were not seeking – His salvation.
Over the centuries, especially in Western culture, this concept of giving thanks produced orphanages, hospitals, charities to benefit the poor and needy. While the Christian morality percolated through the Western culture, constantly fueled by the efforts of Christians, these benefits were realized by those who were not Christians; in fact, special effort has always been made to show Christ’s love to those who are not saved in order to give them a “taste of Heaven”. This has not been performed perfectly because all Christians are sinners saved by grace and still sin. However, the fact that Christian cultures were the only cultures to show mercy and thanksgiving attests to the truth of the life changing power of the Scriptures.
However, now that Western cultures are rapidly moving away from Christian beliefs and Christian morality is diminishing exponentially, thanksgiving is no longer about giving thanks to God. Now it is a time of selfish gluttony among those who can contribute to the gluttony. Pardoning a turkey makes more headlines than mourning the deaths from those who claim to love through the infliction of death and destruction. And the Christian is looked upon as the intolerant enemy of those who would silence all opposition to their beliefs which are not from God’s word.
Take the time to understand that Thanksgiving is not about handing out a few meals at a “soup kitchen” or giving to the poor on a special day to make yourself feel better about yourself. Thanksgiving is a memorial to a God Who gives eternal life to ALL who come from every culture as undeserving sinners ready to receive His pardon and life everlasting clothed in His righteousness. It is about receiving what we did not want, did not seek, and did not understand – it is about receiving His gift of His righteousness based solely on His choice and not on our being deserving, we were not deserving and will never be deserving. This is the light of Thanksgiving we to forth into the night of the world – the spark of His righteousness He has placed within us though the world seeks to extinguish His light to remain in the darkness without thanksgiving.