What makes Thanksgiving special? Or is it just another holiday? Another day off work?
Each of our national holidays shares a common purpose. Each, when properly observed, provides a time for reflection—a time to push the pause button on the daily routine of life.
That’s what makes each of these days a holiday—holy day—a day set apart from other days. Whether it be New Years Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and even Presidents Day and Martin Luther King Junior’s Birthday, they provide a time to stop and remember.
But what makes Thanksgiving Day unique? Not turkey dinners and pumpkin pie or football games or Macy’s parade. Certainly not Black Friday that follows! (Or at least it used to follow Thanksgiving. In the race for profits it seems that Black Friday now precedes Thanksgiving.)
I like to compare Thanksgiving Day with a railroad crossing that forces us to stop in the middle of a road trip called life.
Some of us remember the old railroad crossing signs that read, “Stop. Look. Listen.” Those three words reveal the essence of celebrating Thanksgiving as it was meant to be.
The pilgrims are credited for celebrating the first Thanksgiving Day in October 1621 following the first harvest in the new world. It was a three-day affair with Native Americans and the new colonists enjoying the bounty of the harvest together.
In 1789 George Washington declared a national day to give thanks. I find it interesting that Thomas Jefferson chose not to observe Thanksgiving Day. But is it any wonder? Our third president was a deist, who didn’t believe in a personal God. So who would he thank for that golden brown wild turkey on the platter?
Thanksgiving became a federal holiday when Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, called the nation to offer “Thanks and praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in heaven…” Thanksgiving has been celebrated in November ever since.
Back to the railroad crossing sign. I recently discovered that there is apparently a market for these antique signs. I found one sign on ebay.com selling for $8,475. Nostalgia, it seems, still sells.
So what do these commands to stop, look and listen have to do with Thanksgiving Day? I believe these words reflect many biblical passages. Psalm 103:1-2 comes to mind.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits….
We discover similar instructions in each of the following psalms through Psalm 107. It would be well to pay attention to the three commands on old railroad crossing signs.
Stop! Perhaps it’s only my default position, but I suspect most of us can agree that it’s easy to get caught up in the routine demands of life and forget to reflect on how greatly we have been blessed. I need occasional reminders to just “stop” long enough to reflect. I wrote about that in last week’s blog.
Look! Remembering God’s benefits is the look command on the railroad sign. This morning it was Psalm 111 that challenged me to stop dumping my request list on God and to look both directions, backward and forward. While reflecting on the past year I was reminded of all the good things God has done for me. The list is long.
Listen! When I finally stop talking long enough to listen, I can begin to reflect on the manifold blessings graciously heaped upon me. Yes, it is grace. No blessing has been deserved or earned. Listening reminds me of not only how great God is, but how good! How faithful!
Live! I found a few old railroad crossing signs that included a fourth word: live.
Having stopped and looked back and listened at one of life’s crossings (such as Thanksgiving Day), we can safely go on our way, knowing that God loves us and knows what is best for us. We can trust Him.
Let us also pause to bless the Lord by sharing about these blessing with others. That is what praise is all about. I can thank God silently in my heart on Thanksgiving Day or any day, but I can only praise God by sharing these blessing with others.
How about including that opportunity at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner? It may not add sweetness to the pumpkin pie, but it can change the atmosphere in a room…and the direction of a day.