Monday, November 21, 2022

Always Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving Day my wife and I may not be dining at a heavily laden table surrounded by extended family as we had hoped. For first time in our lives it might be just the two of us for Thanksgiving dinner. We will have to wait and see.

The reason for the uncertainty is that we came down with COVID recently. Even though we are feeling better now, we want to make sure we are not contagious. We certainly do not want to give our loved ones an unwanted viral holiday gift! That is a gift you do not want to regift!

So we are waiting the recommended ten-day period, and we will take a COVID test the day before Thanksgiving to make sure we are safe. The whole ordeal has made us appreciate how much we are grateful for the presence of family during the holidays. Consequently I have been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving and what it means to give thanks.

One of the Bible’s most well-known passages on this topic was written by Apostle Paul. He says to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Sermons on this text often follow the natural breakdown of the passage: rejoice, pray, give thanks.

The underlying theme is the word “always.” Paul says, “Rejoice always.” The word “always” is unexpected. We tend to rejoice only when good fortune comes our way. Then he tells us to “pray without ceasing.” In other words, pray always. We tend to pray only when we feel the need to do so. He says, “give thanks in all circumstances.” We all give thanks when blessings are flowing. The difference in Paul’s approach is that we are to do these three spiritual practices always.

He is not asking us to do the impossible, namely to wear a happy face all the time regardless of circumstances. He is not instructing us to shout “Praise God!” when tragedies befall us or those we love. He does not intend for us to be muttering prayers under our breath 24/7. He is not suggesting that we thank God when we witness injustice or see people in pain. In calling us to engage in these spiritual practices always, the apostle calls our attention to what is always present in the midst of the vicissitudes of life.

He is pointing us to the Divine Presence that is always here now. He is calling us to look beyond the fabric of time and space to what is eternal. He is pointing us to the Peace that dwells at the hub of the wheel of life. The wheel of life turns round and round. Sometimes it brings joy and sometimes sorrow. Sometimes pleasure and sometimes pain. Sometimes laughter and sometimes tears. “For everything there is a season,” Ecclesiastes reminds us. All emotions have their appropriate time and place.

Yet at the center of all seasons of life there is a place of deep peace, joy, and gratitude that is always present. It is a deep spring from which flows living water even in the middle of an emotional desert. It is the eternal eye at the center of the storms of life. This is where God dwells, even when there is suffering and death on the surface.

Knowing this ever-present peace is “the will of God in Christ Jesus,” according to the apostle. The indwelling Christ is present in sickness and health, wealth and poverty, sadness and happiness. “I will be with you always,” said Jesus. Christ is always. The only way to “give thanks in all circumstances” is to pay attention to what is present in all circumstances. It is a matter of where you are looking.

This Gift of Eternal Presence is eternal life. It is beyond time and space. It is knowing now – and always - the Reality of the Omnipresence of God. Jesus referred to this as the Kingdom of God. This is as present in the suffering of Good Friday as in the joy of Christmas Day. It is present on Thanksgiving Day and every day. In other words it is always Thanksgiving.

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