Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Thanksgiving Meditation

I’m technologically challenged. I’ve learned to live without my laptop (though some days/weeks it’s hard), so if I am to post anything regarding Thanksgiving, it will have to be today…right now…while I have accessed to my desktop computer.

One of my favorite things is to relish in the history of American Thanksgiving. I like to revisit the times when “thanksgiving” meant focusing on God and thanking Him for His blessings—not just a holiday with food and family. I’m not sure I really want to replace the Albert family football game with a three hour sermon “in ye meeting house” like those early Pilgrims did. But I do think we forget how seriously our former countrymen took thanksgiving occasions.

Consider, for instance, the town council of Charlestown, Massachusetts. The were having a rough time getting established in 1676, but on June 20 of that year, they convened a meeting to determine how they could best express their gratitude to God for the blessings they were experiencing. By unanimous vote, they instructed their clerk, Edward Rawson, to proclaim June 29 as a day of thanksgiving. It was the first time a governing body in America issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation. Here is what they said:
"The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions:
The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being persuaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and souls as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ."

The Continental Congress on November 1, 1777 issued a proclamation, stating within it that “…it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received…”

The next year the Continental Congress set “…the 30th day of December next, to be observed as a day of public thanksgiving and praise, that all the people may, with united hearts, on that day, express a just sense of his unmerited favors; particularly in that it hath pleased him, by his overruling providence, to support us in a just and necessary war, for the defense of our rights and liberties…”

The following year (1789) they “…recommended to the several states, to appoint Thursday, the 9th of December next, to be a day of public and solemn thanksgiving to Almighty God for his mercies, and of prayer for the continuance of his favor and protection to these United States…”

In modern times, it has been our Presidents, more than our Congresses, that have offered proclamations inviting Americans to give thanks to God.

George Washington started the tradition writing: “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 in responding to the request of Congress for a national day of thanksgiving, Washington stated:
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 in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable 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 has been pleased to confer upon us.

Lincoln, as the 16th President asked Americans to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…”

Eloquent words of thanks to God are pretty well relegated to the past. President Bush’s proclamation failed to call us to give our thanks to God for His blessings. In pluralistic America, many don’t want to be too precise in acknowledging the exact source of our prosperity and freedom.

So let us revive an old tradition; that of praising and thanking God for His manifold blessing upon our country. Let us gratefully acknowledge His gifts to these United States of America.

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