And be thankful.
So, let's quibble. Next week is Thanksgiving. It is a national holiday in the United States celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. It's origins are traced to 1619 and 1621 in well-documented records of the newly arrived Pilgrims giving thanks to God for their bountiful harvests. We've glamorized the celebration with a few multi-cultural enhancements and decidedly secular applications. Genuine thankfulness has slipped to the edges of the national celebration. In our times parades, big games, family meals, Christmas sales, and service to others mark our thanksgiving experience. Often lost in the busy hubbub of the season is a genuine spirit of thankfulness. Truth is, if we're not thankful, there really is no thanksgiving.
The other day a sentence in the Apostle Paul's Epistle to the Colossians stopped me in my tracks. As in many of his letters Paul was advising the Colossian believers about their relationship with other Christians, those within the community of faith. Their stressful times created differences of opinion about many issues that threatened their internal dynamics. Even in those earliest days church people knew how to move in many directions. Line after line Paul listed the virtues, disciplines, and fruit of the Christian life---God's chosen ones, compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness, love, harmony, peace, and oneness. Make note of his appeal to them---
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness,
humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint
against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must
forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect
harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called
in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and
admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do
everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3: 12-17, ESV
Right in the middle of this long litany of Christian character and practice he wrote "And be thankful". Three simple words. No elaboration. Paul knew that the spirit of thankfulness was essential if they were to live the life God intended and planned for them. And, be thankful, indeed.
Perhaps that should be our theme and focus the week before Thanksgiving. Think about it. Thanksgiving is just another family meal, or parade, or big game, or Christmas sale if we are not truly thankful. That means being aware of God's guidance and provision---you know, counting our blessings one by one, as we used to sing. Perhaps it's time for us to recapture that sense of thankfulness that the Pilgrims experienced those many generations ago. I mean, if we're not thankful then the entire concept of thanksgiving is just more word games and pretense. And, we're pretty good at them.
It's not all that complex, a mystery hidden in Paul's systematic theology or the ancient language in which he wrote. It's an essential he added in a very simple sentence, a translation without complex interpretation. "And be thankful." He knew their spiritual lives would be incomplete without it. He also knew that thankfulness wasn't some-thing they did. It was what they were supposed to be.
He said, "And be thankful', knowing that it was much deeper than anything they would do. It was an identify factor. What they were. And, that's much more than another turkey dinner.