“What Happened To Thanksgiving?”

November 18, 2018
Jonathan Rumburg
Isaiah 12:1-6

Introduction

Barbara Leader, of the News Star, which is part of the USA Today media network, wrote last week, a piece entitled “What Happened to Thanksgiving?”

She writes, “Just a few years ago, between Halloween and Christmas there was November, full of changing leaves and cool breezes and Thanksgiving, the one holiday specifically devoted to recognizing our gifts, not buying them.

          It was the holiday when families and friends gathered around the dinner table, talked about their blessings and gave thanks. Then everyone feasted on turkey and dressing and napped while they watched football all afternoon.

          Thanksgiving tradition has been replaced by a disgraceful display of gimme, gimme, gimme and sell, sell, sell.

          Where are our priorities?  Where’s Thanksgiving?

          It’s gone like Sunday afternoon naps after blue laws lifted.

          Now, Thanksgiving is just another shopping day.  Are we so focused on getting what we want that we don’t have time to be grateful for what we have?”

Leader poses a good question. What happened to Thanksgiving? Why are we so quick to skip over the chance to offer our thanks for all that has been given to us?

Have we become so expectant of that which we have we no longer need to offer thanks?

Or has the opposite happened, and we have we become so discouraged with our situation we don’t see any reason to offer thanks?

Whatever the case may be, thanksgiving is not just about a holiday celebration, nor the kicking off of a holiday season.  Thanksgiving is about a perspective of God in our world.  It’s about knowing and acknowledging that God is God, doing what God does.

And that is what Isaiah is teaching.

Move 1

In today’s text the prophet Isaiah is addressing the people of God just prior to the period of Babylonian exile.  The northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians, and the southern kingdom of Judah had become a vassal state to Assyria.  The chosen people of God were in bad shape politically, and they were in even worse shape spiritually.

It was a dim and chaotic period, filled with uncertainty as to what was going to come next—but whatever did come next wasn’t going to be good.  And so it certainly didn’t seem, given the circumstances, to be a good time for Isaiah to call the people of God to give thanks.

It probably wasn’t a good time to implore the people to trust and not be afraid because nothing but abandonment and fear was flooding their spirits.

It probably wasn’t a good time to have them make known God’s deeds because they probably wouldn’t have given a very good report.

And it probably wasn’t a good time for Isaiah to invite the people to come to the well of salvation and draw its waters of joy because surely that well had gone dry.

But nonetheless, calling the people of God to give thanks is exactly what Isaiah did.  Isaiah called them to give thanks despite the dim circumstances, despite their attitude, despite other voices of authority drowning out the voice of God, because Isaiah knew there were still reasons to give thanks to God.

Move 2

So what reasons does Isaiah cite as reasons to give thanks?  Isaiah offers three reasons.

First, in verse one. “You will say on that day: I will give thanks to you O Lord for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.”

Though the people are deserving of God to be angry, God instead offers comfort.  And so, through God’s grace the people are forgiven, which is reason to give thanks.

The second reason is found in verse two. “I will trust and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might.”

Isaiah reminded the people that in moments that seem to be too difficult to endure, God’s gift of strength is present, and that is reason to give thanks.

And the third reason is found in a verse three, complete with vivid imagery, where the prophet says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

It is a verse that reminded people of the gift of joy that is never in short supply to the people of God.  Those faithful to God could draw from this well a continuous supply of joy in a time and place that had none.  For the well of salvation is a well that can never go dry.  And that is reason to give thanks.

*******

          The gift of forgiveness, the gift of strength in your weakest moment, and the gift of joy that never runs out is why Isaiah called these exile bound people of God to offer thanks in a time and place that didn’t seem to merit such an offering of thanksgiving.

And the same call can be heard of Isaiah for us today.

We are called to give thanks to God, regardless of our circumstances, because whether our circumstances are good or not, there remains, still, reason to offer our thanks.

The same promises God made to the people of God facing exile then, are the same promises God makes to us today.

And the same reasons Isaiah gave to the people of God to give thanks then, are the same reasons we ought to give thanks today.

Move 3

Now when breaking down thanksgivings, and considering the “whys and why nots” to thanksgivings, we should keep in mind there are just two types of thanksgivings.

There are the likely times we give thanks, and there are unlikely times we give thanks.

When life is moving along smoothly, when we’re enjoying good health, satisfying work, good family relations, we are “likely thankers.” It is only logical to offer our thanks to God when the waters of our lives are calm and tranquil.

But then there are times when life is not so smooth, when we find ourselves confronting uncertain health, strained relationships, financial struggles, or unexpected loss.  In those times we are “unlikely thankers” because it just doesn’t seem right or even logical to offer our thanks to God.

But it’s the unlikely thankers who discover the greatest depth and meaning of thanksgiving.

*******

          Because of a drunk driver, the Rev. Robin Garvin found himself attending the funeral of a colleague’s wife, daughter, and mother.

As Rev. Garvin sat in the sanctuary waiting for the service to begin, he wondered what the presiding minister could possibly say to comfort the numb and heartbroken congregation that was gathering.

Over a decade later the words offered by that presiding minister still resonated with Rev. Garvin.  He explains how the pastor began by honestly telling how much he struggled to find the right words to comfort and encourage them.  The pastor explained how he struggled to make sense of such a senseless act.  The pastor explained how it was hard to see God’s goodness in such a tragedy.

The pastor then went on to say how he was convinced the only way through this tragedy, the only way through this dim, chaotic, uncertain time, was to give thanks.

The pastor said the only faithful and reasonable response to the tragedy was to give thanks to God for the gift of life; to give thanks to God for those who had died; and finally, to give thanks to God for the incredible gift of eternal life.

Rev. Garvin writes, “To be sure, we were a fellowship of ‘unlikely thankers’. And yet, as we gave thanks, we came to believe it was the way through, because it made us aware of God’s presence, and God’s abundant love for us.”

*******

          This Thursday many of us will be “likely thankers”—we are healthy, family and friends are by our side, our basic needs are being met, and life is reasonably stable.

If these are your circumstances, then this Thanksgiving recognize, and remember, and sing praise to God for you have drawn from the well of salvation and found abundant joy.

Undoubtedly, however, some of us will be “unlikely thankers.”

We find ourselves confronting uncertain health, strained relationships, financial insecurities or maybe the loss of someone dear to us.

If these are your circumstances, I gently invite you to offer thanks to God.  Not for the present circumstances, but for what was, for the days you were a likely thanker, and for the God who promises you forgiveness, strength, grace, joy, and hope for the better days that are sure to come.

No matter what—likely or unlikely—we all have reasons to give thanks.

Conclusion

Barbara Leader asks a good question. What Happened To Thanksgiving?

Some will blame retailers and capitalistic pursuits.  Some will blame radio stations caving into demands for yule tide songs and music.  Some will blame the state of our world, and see only calamity, fighting, incivility, uncertainty, and loss.

And all have merit to be the answer to what happened to Thanksgiving.

But I can’t help but wonder if we have simply forgotten thanksgiving.  Maybe we have come to see thanks giving as inconsequential at best, and irrelevant at worst.

Which is why we need Isaiah, who spoke to people of faith—and still speaks to people of faith—facing uncertain times.

We need Isaiah because Isaiah reminds us God comforts us even if we don’t deserve it; God offers strength in moments of weakness; and God permits us to draw joy from the well of salvation.

So because of those blessings, let us, this Thanksgiving, proclaim and sing praises to the Lord, let us shout aloud and make known God’s deeds, for great in our midst is our Holy God.  And that is worthy of our thanksgiving.  Amen.

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