It is Thanksgiving Day here in the USA. I wanted to write a bit about the day, its meaning and how we, as followers of Christ should approach it.
Most of us relate our early understanding of Thanksgiving to the Pilgrims and Native Americans. While there were certainly shared meals and celebrations between these two peoples, there was nothing in these early celebrations that went beyond a local gathering.
It was not until George Washington, as the first President of the United States, issued a Presidential Proclamation in 1789 that Thanksgiving took on national status as a holiday. Even then, after that first Thanksgiving, the holiday was celebrated on different days from State to State.
It was Abraham Lincoln, with another Presidential Proclamation, that Thanksgiving Day was nationalized as the last Thursday of November in 1863. Then in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, changed the day to the fourth Thursday of November.
There have been a lot of revisionist historians that have tried to minimize the place of God and faith in the founding of our Nation. In light of this, I thought is would be good to look back at that first Presidential Proclamation issued by George Washington.
The proclamation begins with:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that God is central in the mind of then president George Washington. President Washington goes on to give his reasoning for making this declaration:
“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.”
George Washington understood that it was only by God’s divine providence and intervention that a small group of upstart colonies were able to win their independence from what was, at the time, arguably the strongest nation in the Western world. He also understood, that as beneficiaries of this divine grace and providence we should take time to express our gratitude.
President Washington then expressed what he saw as the commitment the government must maintain to the people:
“…to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”
As I think about this first proclamation I believe this should resonate with us; those who are followers of Christ. We should also be grateful to our sovereign Creator for the blessings He has bestowed on us as individuals and as a Nation.
I also believe that as part of this expression of gratitude we should seek to bless others as we have been blessed. I would encourage you during this holiday season to seek not only to bless those who are closest to you but to reach out to those who are not. So, as you gather around your table this Thanksgiving pray for God to give you opportunities to reach others with the Gospel and with material blessings.