Beyond Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is celebrated quite differently now than it once was. Long before there was an American holiday called Thanksgiving, in Biblical history, days were commemorated for the purpose of giving thanks (usually for specific events in salvation history). These days were always connected with events through which Israel experienced the undeserved grace of God. These days were not days of feasting and shopping and consumption, rather, they were days of prayer, fasting, and sacrifice. These were days in which people turned their whole posture toward gratitude. But gratitude has less to do with our Thanksgiving than Turkey has to do with helping the poor.

We say our thank you's to God and then we turn our hearts toward our stuff again--consuming for ourselves the gifts God has given us and waiting for the big Christmas sales to start. We know no other way. Prayer and fasting are nearly absent from the celebration. Part of this is because our theology of stuff has changed. Rather than looking toward a point of salvation, recognizing it as undeserved or even unfair, we look to our possessions and we see them as deserved and as ours for our use--"God is doing a good job keeping up his side of the deal so now I'll enjoy what I've got... thanks." We actually get trapped in this kind of thinking.

We get trapped in the kind of thinking that says that the only response we have is to say "thank you" and then keep on eating. But we are invited into something so much better. We are invited to extend God's unfair grace to others. We can, in fact, go beyond "thank you." We can share our blessings with others which is so much greater than just using our possessions for our personal consumption. We can take these undeserved gifts and offer undeserved sharing with others. Gratitude and generosity cannot be separated. Hear the words of Matthew 18:
"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
The servant's response was not a response of gratitude for the best and only response to an undeserved gift is a mirrored generosity. It's the only response and it is indeed the best response because the joy of shared life is greater than the bitter consumption of goods. There's a way beyond thanksgiving and it is the way of mirroring God's generosity and undeserved grace. Perhaps we might revive a posture of prayer and fasting in our Thanksgiving celebrations. Or perhaps our celebrations, if matched with loving mercy, can be our gracious response. We are no longer trapped by our stuff. We are invited to share it.

In Jesus Christ, Thanksgiving offers to us something bigger than itself--a way beyond a "thank you" and consumption--an escape from the cultural mistake of thinking that the only response to gifting is saying "thank you." We are invited to return to everyday life with the awareness of our undeserved gifts, offering a renewed generosity to those in need and experiencing new life through mercy.