Monthly Archives: November 2008

A Call To Give Thanks

 Thanksgiving by definition means to express gratitude towards God. Thanksgiving was central to the Jewish faith and an essential part of worship according to the Old Testament.  It was offered generally by the Jews in response to God’s concrete acts in history but sacrifice and offerings were also to be given continually out of a grateful heart.

 

In the Old Testament it is taught that thanksgiving should never be given grudgingly but always with a generous and willing heart. In Judeo-Christian tradition it is the duty of the faithful to express thankfulness to God for His constant love, care, provision and mercy. The praises of His people were considered the most valuable sacrifice of all, more pleasing to Him than the blood of animals.

 

I will  I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the LORD better       

than   than an ox or bull, which has horns and hooves.  Ps 69:30-31 (NKJV)

 

      The Old Testament Law called for constant and continual thanks to be offered before the Lord.  In the eras of the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple certain Levites were appointed to give continual praise and thanks to God. 

 

He appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the Ark by giving constant praise and thanks to the Lord God of Israel and by asking for his blessings upon his people. (1Chronicles 16:4, tlb)

 

In the New Testament believers are also taught that praise and thanksgiving should be a regular part of our routine

 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1Thes 5:16-18 (NKJV)

 

It is good to make thankfulness a habitual part of our worship of God and to bless Him regularly with the expressive and spontaneous fruit of our lips.

 

It is good to say thank you to the Lord, to sing praises to the God who is above all gods.  Every morning tell him, “Thank you for your kindness,” and every evening rejoice in all his faithfulness.  Sing his praises, accompanied by music from the harp and lute and lyre.  You have done so much for me, O Lord. No wonder I am glad! I sing for joy.  O Lord, what miracles you do! And how deep are your thoughts!  Psalms 92:1-5 (TLB)

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The Jewish Roots of a Thanksgiving Feast

The Pilgrim Separatists who settled at Plymouth Massachusetts and celebrated the first American Thanksgiving feast were Christians but the precedent for thanksgiving feasts traces back to the Old Testament and Judeo-Christian roots. 

The tradition of thanksgiving feasts began with the Jewish people thousands of years ago.  In the Old Testament God commanded the Jews to participate in a feast to celebrate the in-gathering of the harvest each year. 

The purpose for celebrating the feast was two fold.  First the feast day was meant to be a time of thanksgiving for all.  And second the celebration was designed to impact the children of the nation with teachable moments where truths and knowledge of significant spiritual events of Jewish history could be passed on.  The Word of God instructed the Jews about the importance of spending time with their children and teaching them to love God and His ways. 

 

In Deut. 6:4-9 it says,“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

 

The celebration of the Feast of In-gathering or Tabernacles was very participatory in nature.  It was a week–long festival from the 15th to 21st of Tishri, which marked the completion of the whole harvest by the ingathering of the grapes. Because this was the time when everyone went out into the vineyards for their “communal working holiday” and lived in tents, it was an excellent time to remember the religious lessons of the forty years when the whole nation had lived in tents between their sojourn in Egypt and the possession of Canaan (Leviticus 23:34–36; 39–44; Deuteronomy 16:13–15).  At the end of the agricultural year in the land to which God had brought them, thanksgiving was expected to be shown and appropriately celebrated (Exodus 23:16; 34:22).   

 

By New Testament times the celebration of the feast of the In-gathering or Tabernacles was a spectacular ritual. Tents made of palm leaves were placed on rooftops, in courtyards, and in gardens, and people lived in them for the week.  Two priestly processions left the Temple each morning; one went to collect leafy boughs, and the other went to the Pool of Siloam. When the priests returned there was a procession round the altar (once around for the first six days of the festival and seven times on the last day — a reminder of the ritual at Jericho, Joshua 6:3–4) and a tabernacle, or booth, was made for the altar itself. The water was poured out on the Temple steps so that it would flow down and out through the Temple to the world outside, and so indicate the way that the Jewish faith would satisfy the world. During the festival four large candelabra were set up in the Court of the Women, Everyone in Jerusalem could see the light, and there was music and dancing beneath with flaming torches. The light symbolized the revelation and truth of the Jewish faith.

 

The Feast of In-gathering or Tabernacles was meant and designed from beginning to end to be atime of supplying teachable moments, building memories, facilitating family unity and expressing community.  The celebration involved participation by every member of the society. Males and females, the young and the old were expected to be active in the festivities.  For centuries sociologists have marveled at the fact that the Jews could keep their national identity after losing their homeland.  But it has been theorized that it was exactly the institution of such thick traditions as those involved in the celebration of thanksgiving that enabled the Jews to hold together throughout years without a land of their own.

 

Christians have never been required by the New Testament to recognize the Old Testament feasts. But as Christians today it is important to realize that all the previous works of God toward his people were leading to His greatest work of all on the cross.  Christians are asked by the Lord Jesus Himself to remember the cross and the celebration of Communion is in itself a thanksgiving feast complete with the reminder to do it in remembrance of Him.  A great addition to the celebration of our national Thanksgiving holiday is to celebrate Communion together as a family.  In this way we make the holiday uniquely Christian in its context and it gives us a participatory lesson which teaches our children about the central focus of the Christian faith.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

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It’s November, let’s turn our hearts toward Thanksgiving

Tomorrow no matter what the outcome of our National election may be the reality is–life will still go on–and it will still be November 2008. 

Regardless of who wins and who loses we will be approximately three weeks off from the celebration of Thanksgiving and it will be a holiday that many of us will desperately need in the aftermath of all the political hoopla. 

In response to my need to get past the “election” and on to normalcy I have written the first in a three part series of special posts for the month of November on the topic of Thanksgiving.  Please give it a read!   

Part 1– F.Y.I.–The History of Thanksgiving

What is Thanksgiving all about?  In approximately three weeks time we will all have a day off of work and celebrate a national holiday called Thanksgiving.  Most families in our nation will hold some type of holiday gathering but the majority will not really spend any of that time doing the activity for which the day is intended.

 

What about you?  How do you spend this contemporary feast day?  Do you know the specifics of the origin of Thanksgiving?

 

During the reign of Elizabeth I, queen of England, a sect of Puritans separated from the new Protestant Church of England and after much persecution took refuge in the Netherlands. They finally determined that the ultimate answer to their search for a peaceful residence for their families was to immigrate to America.  On September 16, 1620, these Separatist “pilgrims” became part of a group numbering 102 men, women, and children who left Plymouth, England, for America on the Mayflower. On November 21, the Mayflower dropped anchor in the sheltered harbor off the site of present-day Provincetown, Massachusetts.

 

It was in this vicinity that the Puritans met up with Squanto, a Patuxet Native American. Squanto was a unique individual who had encountered Europeans as early as 1614 in what is now Massachusetts and had aided the English in their early exploration of the American continent. He learned the English language and served as a ships guide and interpreter for expeditions from Britain.  He had even survived a kidnapping at the hands of rogue Englishmen who had attempted to sell him as a slave.  Upon meeting up with the British Puritans he taught them how to catch eel and grow corn.  He also served as an interpreter for them and it is thought that without Squanto’s help none of the Puritans would have survived their first year in the New World.  

 

As it was the first winter took a demanding toll of life on the Pilgrims and between the time of the landing in November and March of 1621, only 47 colonists survived the diseases they contracted on the ship and the adversity of the new continent.  After the first harvest was completed by the Plymouth colonists in 1621, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer shared by all the colonists and neighboring Native Americans.

 

The same Governor Bradford of Massachusetts made the first “Thanksgiving Proclamation” three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth and declared. 

 

“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes and garden vegetables, and has made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.  Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th of the year of our Lord 1623 and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock there to listen to ye pastor and render thanks giving to ye Almighty God for all His blessing.”

 

This proclamation instituted what would come to be the first Thanksgiving festival celebrated in the New World.  It was this early celebration of Thanksgiving by the British Puritan founders of our country that began the tradition of a November Thankgiving feast.  These historical events represent the origins of our current national holiday of Thanksgiving.

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