The first recorded celebration of Thanksgiving in North America was in Newfoundland in 1578. An English minister named Wolfall presided. There are records of another held in Maine in 1607. In December 1619 thirty-eight men landed safely on the banks of the James River near Jamestown in Virginia. The English captain, John Woodleaf, read a directive from his charter declaring that the day of their arrival “shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of thanksgiving to God.” It was the Pilgrims’ settlement at Plymouth, Massachusetts, which is most often remembered as the site of the first Thanksgiving. Governor Bradford ordered a three-day celebration in October 1621. In keeping with the biblical instructions in Leviticus 23:39 for the Feast of the Ingathering, its purpose was to give prayerful thanks to God for the blessing of the harvest. The Christian commitment and spiritual motivation of this little group of people are inspiring.
IMPORTANCE OF THANKSGIVING
The desire of an individual to offer thanks to God goes back to the early chapters of Genesis (see Gen 6:8, 18).
When Noah left the ark, having been saved by God, he “built an altar to the Lord . . . and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled the soothing aroma” and promised, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Gen 8:20-22). Noah modeled the importance of saying, “Thank you.” And God blessed Noah and said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. . . . Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant” (Gen 9:1, 3).
The experience of corporate thanksgiving finds expression in the annual harvest festival, which is when Moses directed the people of Israel to observe a full week of thanksgiving after the ingathering of the harvest (see Lev 23:39).
David and Solomon continued the tradition, declaring special times of celebration and thanksgiving to God. After years of captivity, Nehemiah called the people together to thank God, thereby reinstituting the instructions from Leviticus regarding the harvest festival. It is recorded that there was great rejoicing (see Neh 8:17).
There are at least 140 passages of Scripture that deal with the subject of thanksgiving from a personal or corporate point of view. The word praise is used in several of those instances. Praise means “to appreciate,” “prize” and “consider precious and worthy of honor.” Thanksgiving is a combination of words joined to express thanks to God. It is gratefulness followed by expressions of that gratitude. By far the most familiar passages of praise are found in the Psalms (see Psa 109:30, 105:1, 100:4). In the New Testament, Jesus constantly gave thanks to the Father. One time in particular Jesus risked His life to celebrate the thanksgiving festival. Paul began nearly every one of his letters with an expression of thanks and urged us to give thanks in everything (1Th 5:16-18). Paul describes those under the judgment of God as people who “knew God” but did not “honor Him as God,” or give Him thanks (see Rom 1:21). Then there is the writer of Hebrews who tells his readers to offer God a sacrifice of praise at all times (Heb 13:15).
CELEBRATE BEING THANKFUL
Deuteronomy warns that when everything is going well, men and women have a tendency to let their hearts forget the Lord (see Deu 8:1-20). To counteract that tendency, the Bible teaches that a person should be thankful (see Phi 4:5-7; Eph 5:17-21).
There are many ways to give thanks. A Hebrew Midrash says to “put something where you can see it so your eye will remind your heart.” A person does not have to hang a seasonal decoration on their front door to do this; just seeing all that the Lord does for mankind on a daily basis is more than enough for which to be thankful.
Thanksgiving isn’t simply a remembrance of the way in which the Pilgrims survived the hardships of their first winter in the New World. It is more about taking time to be thankful for all that the Lord does for you each and every day. Before eating this year’s Thanksgiving meal, think of all the blessings that God poured upon the early church. They knew and confessed that these provisions were made possible only because of Jesus’ selfless sacrifice. This acknowledgement leads to true thankfulness…not thankfulness for having all you want, but being thankful for all you have…and that type thankfulness brings true joy!
Thanksgiving is a great time for every family member and friend around the table to take turns expressing their thankfulness for what God has done for them. Tell about times when God helped you and your family overcame difficulties. Remind everyone there that God is not a respecter of persons. The care He gives to one person, He will also give to another. The goal of every test and trial is to bring a child of God into a more spiritually mature walk with God. As a result, the life issues that each person experiences is chosen by God to create the scenarios that best align that person to God’s goal for their life. This is why Paul said whatever a person experiences, whether they are seemingly good or seemingly bad, to rejoice. In this case, whatever issues you may be going through, be thankful, because each of those situations are tailor made for your good.
The real celebration of Thanksgiving is best observed by thanksliving. Take time to thank God for all of the blessings that you enjoy. The best way to thank God is to live your life in a spirit of gratitude that best represents His Word of Truth. A good place to start this is by living out the words of Colossians 3:9-17.
Copyright © 2008 TK Burk. All Rights Reserved.