The annual Thanksgiving holiday is here but any sentiment of gratitude is already being overwhelmed by a passion for purchasing. Before we are swept away by this powerful yule tide, let’s take a moment to consider the significance of thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is usually thought of as a mental, emotional and verbal thing. Saying “Please” and “Thank you” are among the first lessons learned by children. We rightly acknowledge in our souls that we enjoy many things that we haven’t entirely provided for ourselves and that we don’t, strictly speaking, deserve. Some recognize that God, as the Master of Creation and Providence, is the One “from whom all blessings flow” and return a word of thanks to Him in praise and prayer. The refrain of Hebrew worship was “Thank the Lord for He is good; His covenant loyalty endures forever”. Others have no particular object in view in their thanksgiving and simply have a sense of favor beyond merit.
But thanksgiving by its nature and in our common practice is more than just feelings, thoughts and words. For many gifts, a simple word of thanks is quite sufficient. For other things, a card, note or letter is fitting. And for more substantial blessings, a thank you gift is in order. This gift is not something of equal value as that would be an insult and, sometimes, impractical or even impossible. But a significant gift imparts substance and weight to gratitude and is very appropriate in response to larger gifts.
These conventions are also true in our relationship with our Heavenly Father. For His provisions of a routine nature, a word of thanks in our daily prayers is suitable. But for answers to specific petitions and for larger benefits, something more is warranted. In the Old Testament, God provided three kinds of peace offerings as ways to thank Him for his greater gifts in a more meaningful and substantial way. The thank offering was designed to return thanks for gifts specifically requested. The votive offering was for things requested with the oath-bound promise of substantial thanksgiving. And the freewill offering was for broader but weighty reasons for gratitude.
The lesson for us in these offerings is that God is pleased to accept gifts as part of our worship of Him in token of our thanks to Him. Words of thanks with a gift of thanks. The Bible ordinarily pairs words and works together as two witnesses confirming a fact. Jesus said that He is the light of the world and then healed a man born blind to confirm this statement. He also said that He is the bread of life and fed five thousand men plus women and children to confirm this. He gave us His word and His sacraments together. James famously wrote that faith without works is dead. In the same way, thanksgiving without a thank you gift is sometimes meaningless or at least inadequate.
A word of thanks with a gift of thanks is a full expression of gratitude. The gift of a healthy newborn deserves more than a passing verbal thanks. A positive answer for recovery from a major illness calls for more than a few mumbled words of gratitude. Provision of good employment deserves a substantial expression of appreciation. Thanksgiving often must include a gift of thanks with the word of thanks.
God does not need our gifts. But He is pleased to receive them when we truly need and rightly desire a more substantial way to express our thanks to Him for His many significant blessings. In all your careful preparations for gift giving this Christmas, consider the many reasons you have for giving a thank you gift to God where you worship for His many and significant gifts to you including, above all, His indescribable gift of Jesus (2Cor.9:15). Happy Thanks Giving!
Kit Swartz Teaching Elder Emeritus (Oswego, NY), Ruling Elder (Fulton, NY) Related sermon outline and audio is available at sermonaudio.com. Search: Kit Swartz; Keyword, “Thanks Giving”.