Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Hope

But as for me, I will hope continually and will praise You yet more and more.
Psalm 71:14 NASB

In homes across America this week, preparations for Thanksgiving are in full swing - traditions requiring planning and grocery shopping for the annual gathering of family. So many decisions abound - to stuff or not to stuff the turkey, how much sage to put in the dressing, what kind of cranberry sauce to serve, and which desserts to include. Yes, it does sound a bit more like a celebration of indulgence than simple thankfulness. So, when did Thanksgiving become more about abundance of food rather than abundance of hope?

This past summer, my family took a great vacation to Maine. On our way we stopped in Rhode Island at Plymouth Rock. There is a complete replica of the Mayflower there; along the quaintdss streets there are souvenir shops, ice cream and t-shirt shops side-by-side historical markers. You see restaurants and lodging with iconic names like the Mayflower General Store and the William Bradford Inn. The view of the harbor is lovely, and old stone walls and churches tell a story of long ago. But the story of the first Thanksgiving reflects a people who endured great hardship on a long journey of hope.

Leaving Plymouth, England in September 1620, 102 people sail across the ocean for 2 months, some seeking religious freedom and some seeking prosperity in the New World, but all coming with hope. Only half of the original passengers would live to see Spring in New England. Within that first year, Native Americans would teach these pilgrims how to plant and harvest corn. While the Native Americans had a long tradition of celebrating the fall harvest, in 1621 they gather together in celebrating the pilgrims' first successful corn harvest. This merging of nations and traditions with a feast of thankfulness writes America's first Thanksgiving story. The hope of new beginnings, the hope of survival, the the hope of religious freedom, the hope of prosperity join together creating new traditions with new people. 

Pilgrim means a "person who journeys" or a "newcomer to a place". Some of the Mayflower pilgrims came to a new land looking for freedom to worship without mandates by the government. Some of these pilgrims came to make money. These settlers and many others would set the standard and endure the cost of these pursuits. There would be death and famines and wars and more than 150 years before the Declaration of Independence would be written and signed officially forming a new nation. When I think about those times and now, I see lots of similarities. We continuously find ourselves enduring uncertainties and often hardships (physical, emotional, or financial). We don't always get along with our neighbors. Sometimes, we are the newcomer and are not welcomed, other times the roles reverse. We constantly hear about death and famines and wars. Yet, we all need hope to pull us through; we need each other and need to gather together in feasts of thanksgiving.

We are still on a long journey but now live those very freedoms the hope of the pilgrims of 1620 brought to the New World. None of us are perfect; we are flawed and yearn for more. At times money motivates and differences divide and fears fetter our hearts. For more than 200 years after the first harvest feast, America found ways to celebrate the hope of freedom, but it would not be until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an official holiday with this proclamation:
Lincoln asking Americans to "ask God to command to His tender care on all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife." He called for an annual day of Thanksgiving, the last day of November to "heal the wounds of a nation."
We are all pilgrims on a journey of hope - a hope for better, a hope for more. Let us strive to be a brighter light and a kinder neighbor for there is enough darkness around us. Let us seek to love better and judge less for there is more than enough suffering already. Let us shout praises of thanksgiving for the freedom of America and freedom of our souls. Let us offer prayers of thanksgiving to God whose blessings of mercy and grace define our Hope. Let us gather together - with family or friends or whoever we meet on Thanksgiving day - and remember, we are pilgrims who are prone to wander...prone to leave a God who pursues us, loves us, rescues us. Jesus continues to seek the newcomers and the strangers and those who have simply lost their way. Let our Thanksgiving Hope rest in God's goodness! Let His goodness refine our HOPE! ~dho

**side note: In 1941 FDR signed a bill making Thanksgiving the 4th Thursday in November (rather than the 'last'); the purpose was to stimulate retail sales during the Great Depression. Hummm! -dho