The Nearly Forgotten Holiday
Christmas is upon us. It has been for some time. One store brings out Christmas displays in August. Yes, August. But don’t worry, this is not a post lambasting retail practices.
Christmas comes as already busy people gear up for the stress of gift buying, house decorating, and treat making. Lists are being made, and hints are being dropped. The holiday-loving among us have been playing Christmas tunes since November 1 (or maybe sometime in October!) By the time mid-November rolls around, we seem to be immersed in Christmas cheer, whether we like it or not.
I’m in the “not” camp. Why? Because I still love the nearly forgotten November holiday. Not Black Friday, Thanksgiving. I’m adamant about not getting into the Christmas spirit until I’ve given Thanksgiving it’s full due.
There’s no biblical mandate to keep Thanksgiving sacred. Or to celebrate it at all. It’s just another secular holiday. Yet, if approached intentionally, it can be just what we need to prepare our hearts for the true meaning of the Christmas season.
Giving Thanks to God
I love Thanksgiving for many reasons. The traditional feast, the time with family and friends, and the attitude of thankfulness. But what I love most is that it’s a built-in day to reflect on God’s goodness and to give thanks to him.
What better place to turn when thinking of thanking God on Thanksgiving than the Psalms? In fact, the word “thanks” is used 46 times in the Psalms. Psalm 100 is a particularly great call to Thanksgiving.
Psalm 100 consists of four stanzas. The third and fourth stanza echo the themes of the first and second.
Stanza 1: Come into the Lord’s presence with joy and gladness (Psalm 100:1-2)
Stanza 2: He cares for his people (Psalm 100:3)
Stanza 3: Enter his gates with thanksgiving and praise (Psalm 100:4)
Stanza 4: He loves his people (Psalm 100:5)
What a wonderful song of thanks, and what a great model for us on this day of Thanksgiving. Meditating on these themes is a great way to worship God with thanksgiving, so let’s look at them in more detail.
Come into His Presence
The first and third stanzas of Psalm 100 exhort the reader to draw near to God. And to do so with an attitude of joyful worship. This is not rote, going through the motions thanksgiving. It seems to be more than going around the table, naming something for which we give thanks. What if we made Thanksgiving a day to immerse ourselves in the presence of God?
According to this Psalm, it would make us the life of the party! “Come into his presence with singing” and “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” Rather than worrying about whether the turkey will be dry and the pie runny, we can “serve the Lord with gladness.”
Why do we enter his gates with thanksgiving? Because we can enter them at all. It’s only through the saving work of Jesus that we have access to the presence of God.
Though sin has separated us from the holy God (Romans 3:23), he made a way for us to be with him, to the praise of his glory. He gave his Son to bear the full weight of our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), to receive the punishment we deserve. And then Jesus got up from the dead, conquering sin and death once and for all (2 Timothy 1:10). This made a way for us to not only enter God’s holy presence, but to belong there as sons and daughters (John 1:12). Truly, we have the best reason for giving thanks!
He is Good
The second and fourth stanzas give us wonderful reasons to draw near to God in worship. Those in the presence of the Lord can rejoice, knowing that he is good to his people. The Psalmist gives us four evidences of his goodness.
He made us (Psalm 100:3)
From the beginning of creation, the Lord has shown his goodness. Everything he created, he called good. When he created humanity, he called us “very good.” We were made to belong to him, to be in his presence.
He shepherds us (Psalm 100:3)
We were not created to make our own way. Rather, to be shepherded by our Creator. He watches over us. He keeps us and protects us. He is good to us.
He loves us (Psalm 100:5)
And he loves us! In spite of our unworthiness and in spite of our sinfulness, he loves us. Indeed, this should demand our worship and our thanksgiving.
He is faithful to all generations (Psalm 100:5)
He is also faithful to all generations. Scripture tells a story of humanity’s unfaithfulness but through it all, God is faithful. Praise God that his faithfulness is not dependent on ours. Give thanks that through life’s ups and downs we can depend on the constant faithfulness of our Good Shepherd and Savior.
Holiday seasons come with much busyness and stress, and perhaps some sadness and pain. So, let’s embrace the nearly forgotten holiday of Thanksgiving for all its worth. Let’s prepare our hearts for the joy of Christmas, the hope of Jesus, by entering into his gates with Thanksgiving.