Monthly Archives: November 2010

Thanksgiving Stirs Hope

Thanksgiving Stirs Hope – 1st Sunday of Advent – November 28, 2010

Hope Seeks Peace – 2nd Sunday of Advent – December 5, 2010

Peace secures Joy – 3rd Sunday of Advent – December 12, 2010

Joy Spreads Love – 4th Sunday of Advent – December 19, 2010

Shifting from Thanksgiving to Christmas can seem terribly abrupt. Hyper-commercialized barrages on “black Friday” – the guerilla shopping day that begins long before dawn the day after Thanksgiving – don’t help. Any spiritual reflections fostered by Thanksgiving rarely survive to kindle deeper appreciation of the enormity of God’s gift of love celebrated at Christmas. The two holidays most often merely bump into one another as accidental calendar dates in succeeding months.

But Thanksgiving should be a natural launching pad for realizing the full spiritual experience of Christmas. The titles of the Blind Faith devotionals this Advent season are designed to highlight the growing swell of spiritual insight, reflection, and faith that can build from genuine expressions of thankfulness to abject wonder at God’s unsurpassable demonstration of love. Thanksgiving is a uniquely appropriate preparation for celebrating Christmas.

Thanksgiving invites us to recall and to tell about the goodness and blessings we have experienced. Some families take time at the Thanksgiving dinner table for each person to tell at least one thing that he or she is thankful for. Others take a more private, introspective approach, such as writing down a listing of your reasons for being thankful. Some go further, expressing thanks directly to whoever is responsible for bringing a particular blessing into your life. The abundance spread before most people on Thanksgiving dinner tables should cause more people to specify how they came to enjoy such bounty. Unfortunately, far too few people will bother to think a thankful thought, and far too many people will scrape together only a meager meal because of poverty, personal crises, or haunting social alienation and loneliness. In spite of their struggle to survive, some people who are poor in material terms nevertheless will find glimmers of faith and will express thanks to God.)

Thanksgiving that is a genuine response to the grace and blessings we have received in the past almost inevitably stirs hope. As we give thanks for gifts of love, provision of security, and grace that have saved us from our own failings in the past, we are encouraged to face the future with hope that goodness will prevail. Even if current circumstances find us battling hardship and despair, dedicating time to thanksgiving can help us to recall what is of ultimate value and can renew our hope for tomorrow.

God’s people have found saving hope by giving thanks in good times as well as in times of testing. Psalms 42 and 43 in some Hebrew manuscripts are combined into one song of thanksgiving. Although daily living conditions are hard and even their worship life is threatened, they sing thanks to God and are stirred to continued hope in God’s salvation:

I will remember these things as I pour out my soul: how I used to walk with the crowd and lead it in a procession to God’s house. songs of joy and thanksgiving while crowds of people celebrated a festival. {5} Why are you discouraged, my soul? Why are you so restless? Put your hope in God, because I will still praise him. He is my savior and my God.. {8} The LORD commands his mercy during the day, and at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.. {43:4} Then let me go to the altar of God, to God my joy, and I will give thanks to you on the lyre, O God, my God. {5} Why are you discouraged, my soul? Why are you so restless? Put your hope in God, because I will still praise him. He is my savior and my God. (Psalm 42:4-5,8; 43:4-5 GWT)

The psalmist is not in a celebratory mood. He is in the deep shadows of dark times in his life. Yet, he remembers better days filled with thanksgiving and praise for God, offered in the company of a strong, supportive community of faith. Recalling those experiences of thanksgiving center his thoughts once again on the source of the goodness for which he gives thanks – his faithful God and Savior. This recollection motivates him to renew his hope and to wait for God’s salvation.

Thanksgiving gives way this week to Advent and the Sunday emphasizing our hope for God’s salvation. We have not yet experienced the full depth of God’s goodness and grace by which he saves us from ourselves and our sin. But being thankful for God’s demonstrations of his love and grace in the past stirs us to wait in hope for the fulfillment of God’s grace yet to come.

Don’t let your thanksgiving stop Thursday. Look intentionally for renewed hope in God’s goodness and grace. Thanksgiving stirs hope, and hope is an essential element in the celebration of God’s gift at Christmas.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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