Reference: Genesis 8:14-9:3
The story goes that Noah built a boat, so well built that it survived the greatest catastrophe the world has ever seen – the Great Flood. On that boat, Noah saved himself and his wife and his three sons and their wives, and some of every kind of animal as well.
Now, you may be wondering why I’m talking about Noah on this occasion of Thanksgiving. It’s because the first thing Noah did when he got off the ark was to build an altar and offer sacrifices and give thanks to God. Receiving the gift, God responded, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” And then God said, “Just as I gave you the green plants, behold, I give you everything.”
Noah knew what Thanksgiving is all about.
A lot has happened around the world since last Thanksgiving. A lot has happened to you and me since last Thanksgiving. Not all of it has been good. There’s plenty of bad news to go around. We’re still at war. The economy is flagging. People are still looking for jobs. Health insurance is still agonizingly out of reach for a lot of people. Massive storms have taken a huge toll of life and property. There are too many needy people and too little aid available. Some of us have lost loved ones in the past year.
Do we have anything to be thankful for? And if things are going well for you, is it right for you to be thankful for what you have when there are so many who have nothing?
I think we always ask the wrong question at Thanksgiving. We always ask ourselves, “What do I have to be thankful for?”
Well, let me tell you about Noah. Noah witnessed the destruction of the world. Not even a nuclear war would be as devastating as what Noah saw. Did he have anything to be thankful for? Don’t you think that in six hundred years of living Noah had made a few friends in the world? Don’t you think he had other family – brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and cousins – who weren’t on the ark with him? Do you think that when Noah stepped off the ark and saw the shattered world he was so selfish that all he could think about was how happy he was to be alive? Noah was the first victim of “survivor’s guilt.” Don’t you think the death of everybody he knew outside his immediate family broke his heart?
Noah wasn’t giving thanks for what he had. He was giving thanks for another reason, the right reason. When he stepped off that ark, every living creature on the ark with him belonged to an endangered species. Still Noah took some of those rare and precious animals and offered them as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.
Noah knew what thanksgiving is all about.
George Washington was the first president to introduce Thanksgiving Day, as a national holiday. He issued the first thanksgiving decree on October 23, 1789: “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 … Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th 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, is, or that will be: that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks.”
That was in 1789. Do you know what it was like to live in America in 1789? Nearly every family had buried relatives and dear ones during the war. The economy was non-existent. The colonies lay in shambles. The standard of living was so low it couldn’t even be measured. There was little evidence to lead anyone to believe that the American Experiment would succeed. But in the midst of this most trying time, George Washington issued a Thanksgiving proclamation.
George Washington knew what Thanksgiving is all about.
Abraham Lincoln is the President who issued the Proclamation that fixed the celebration of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November. Up until then, Thanksgiving was observed only intermittently. Lincoln made that proclamation in 1864 – in the deepest, darkest days of the War Between the States! The nation over which he presided was tearing itself apart: brother against brother, family against family. The best hope for America’s future were those young men dying at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and Antietam. Lincoln knew that it would be generations before the country could recover from what was happening in that moment. And in that moment, he issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation – not just for one day, but that it should be carried out every year from then on!
Abraham Lincoln knew what Thanksgiving is all about.
And you and I, concerned as we may be about the days in which we live, concerned as we may be about the people around us who are suffering, you and I are gathered here this morning preparing for another Thanksgiving. But do we really understand what thanksgiving is all about?
It is not a time to give thanks for what we have. Thanksgiving is not a celebration of quantity so that, if we have a lot of stuff, we are very thankful, and if we’re poor and have very little we just have to look harder for something to be thankful about. No. Thanksgiving is not a time to give thanks for what we have.
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for WHO we have.
And that “Who” is the mighty God who guaranteed seedtime and harvest, heat and cold, summer and winter, day and night: the Mighty God who will save all those who trust just as Noah trusted even as he viewed a decimated landscape: the mighty God who will save all those who have faith as George Washington had faith even as he struggled to help a fledgling nation right itself: the mighty God who will save all those who hope as Abraham Lincoln hoped in the midst of our nation’s darkest night: the Mighty God who came to us as a baby in Bethlehem and was crucified on Golgotha and rose again on the third day so that we could be saved even from death.
THAT’S what we have to be thankful for.
So, Happy Thanksgiving! Every day.