Which American holiday most embodies Christianity?
Surely Christmas would be at the top of anyone’s shortlist. The second person of the Trinity took on human form, exchanging the glories of heaven for a feeding trough. This is the miracle of miracles. If God can take on human flesh, everything else is now possible.
Another frontrunner is Easter. Jesus was born to die, then rise. If Christ is not risen, the Christian faith is a pointless and pitiful exercise in religiosity.
But even more than Christmas or Easter, I want to suggest that Thanksgiving encapsulates the Christian faith best.
Thanksgiving does not commemorate a biblical event like the incarnation or resurrection. Jesus never talked about the Pilgrims at Plymouth, and the apostle Paul never gave instructions about carving a turkey. Unlike Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving is not an international holiday for all Christians. It’s a uniquely American celebration. So why is the fourth Thursday in November so similar to Christianity?
Because giving thanks is the culmination of the Christian experience. It is the believer’s reason for being. The reason Jesus was born (Christmas) was so that he would live, die, rise and ascend (Easter). The reason both happened is that Christians would say “thank you” to God forever and ever.
The reason God crafted salvation is “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:5). Individuals are received by a loving God in order to praise him for being so gracious. Giving thanks, then, is the culmination of the Christian mission. It is the tip of the spear of the believer’s God-given duty and privilege—to tell the Lord how ridiculously kind he has been to a ridiculously unworthy bunch. Giving thanks is what Christians will do for all eternity. All that God has done and is doing is working toward that goal.
The absence of thanksgiving is also the fountain of disobedience. Romans 1 gives a laundry list of sin—everything from idolatry to gossip. As man disobeys, his punishment is to be given over into more disobedience. Interestingly, what is the first sin mentioned in this list? Ingratitude. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). This ingratitude is the wedge that opens the door to the fullness of depravity.
The life without God is marked by not giving thanks, and the life with God is marked by giving thanks. A heart full of gratitude is not a special emotion reserved for the extra-spiritual. It’s man’s basic duty.
So let’s embrace the centrality of Thanksgiving. When we bow our heads over a spread of dressing, rolls, and green bean casserole, let’s remember that we were created to say “thank you”—not just for the turkey, but also for the Lamb.
Rick Hardison is pastor of Great Crossings Baptist Church in Scott County.