Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year, and it is not even close. You might have heard me say this before. I might even have written it here in this space in years past.
I love that Thanksgiving has not been corrupted (as badly?) as other holidays. Thanksgiving is still about family and good food, maybe a little football, taking an after-dinner walk to relieve some of the over-stuffed feelings of too much turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry salad, and pecan pie – or an after-dinner nap for the same reasons. And, about remembering to be thankful to the One who makes it all possible.
I remember as a kid travelling on Thanksgiving Day. My great-aunt had a huge old farmhouse near Camdenton, and family from all over Missouri would gather at Aunt Cora’s. I remember getting up before sunrise and driving north through the dark. I remember all the stores and “service stations” (remember them) would be closed, their signs darkened for the holiday. I remember hoping that we would find at least one gas station open to have enough gas to get back home. When we got to Aunt Cora’s house, my Grandma and my other great aunts (her sisters), along with several cousins would all be in Cora’s oversized kitchen working on the feast. The kids would be in the TV room (the only room in the house that was not so large and grand) watching the parades on television. If the weather was nice, and it seemed it generally was, the men would gather on the front porch that spanned the front of the house, smoking their pipes, cigars, or cigarettes. Many years, one of my great uncles would take me and maybe some other cousins, and we would go quail hunting for a few hours.
Then, we would sit down to the meal. My grandpa would say the blessing, being considered the patriarch of the clan, and 50 or 60 forks would go to work! All the clamor and bustle of the morning’s preparations would die down, replaced with a few quiet comments about how good the green bean casserole or the ambrosia is. How can that many people, spread out on tables set up from the kitchen to the dining room to the living room, and even in a downstairs bedroom that Aunt Cora used for sewing and needlecraft, be that quiet? Several minutes later the din of noise would return with all those Aunts and cousins back in the kitchen for clean-up, while the men (those who could squeeze in) retired to the little TV room for some football. Dinner at Aunt Cora’s made it so easy to be thankful.
Luke the physician recounts a story in chapter 17 of his gospel in which Jesus had a very interesting and revealing encounter. While Jesus was travelling toward Jerusalem, a group of ten men with leprosy called out to Him to heal them of their terrible malady. Jesus simply instructed, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Being unclean lepers, only the priests could judge them to be clean. I can imagine these 10 men may have looked at one another, wondering why that would be all Jesus would say or do. With nothing to lose, they arose and began to go to the priests. As they went, they were joyously healed of leprosy. Seeing they had been healed, one of them (a Samaritan) turned back and, praising God fell at Jesus’ feet thanking Him. Jesus asked three questions:
Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner? (Luke 17:17b-18)
Of course, Jesus did not actually need answers to His questions. He was asking these questions for the purpose of teaching the importance of giving thanks. These ten men had been miraculously blessed with healing, yet only one turned back to thank Jesus for His mercy. When you consider our lives, we are not so very different from the lepers in Luke 17. No, we do not need healing from leprosy, but we have received great blessings from God. Our lives are a series of benevolent blessings. We have a measure of good health (if not throughout our entire lives, for a great portion), safety from harm, provision from extreme want and need, and a community with which to relate. For most of us, these blessings are so ever-present that we too often take them for granted. Especially during this holiday season of Thanksgiving, we should take a lesson from the one leper and fall at the feet of Jesus thanking Him.
As we sit down to a great meal or when we gather with our friends and family for our Thanksgiving feast, take a few moments to really consider how blessed each of us is. No matter that our holiday does not measure up to the Norman Rockwell recollection of my youth (probably slightly embellished), we all have boundless reasons to be thankful. At most gatherings, there will be someone to say a blessing over the meal, and probably add a few phrases related to the holiday. But right there, where you or I are seated and before we take the first bite of stuffing, with our eyes closed and our head bowed, and with the fervor and extreme gratefulness of the Samaritan leper, give the Lord God our thanks for blessing, loving, and saving us, even one such as me. As His beloved children, we should give Him our thanks each and every day.
The Samaritan leper was greatly blessed because he was obedient (he arose to go to the priests as Jesus had directed), he worshipped God (by falling at the feet of Jesus), and by giving thanks (on his face before God). May we also be blessed as we strive to be obedient, worshipful, and thankful. And, before we rush out after the meal to get a head start on the Black Friday deals that now happen on Thursday.
As Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief!”
His blessings to all our family.