In his proclamation of the 3rd October 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be National Thanksgiving Day.
Grateful for all the good things God has given to our Nation, even in the midst of a great civil war which Lincoln believed was God’s punishment on America for allowing the institution of slavery, which was an afront to God, the President said: “that we are prone to forget the source from which they come…the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.”
All over the country, and indeed for Americans all over the world, Thanksgiving is a day of celebration and joy as we give thanks for the good things in our lives. Around dinner tables people will express their gratitude to and for each other, for people remembered and benefits received. We will be grateful for family, health, those we love and those who love us, we will be grateful for our wealth, our happiness, our home and our nation. Some will express thanks for the simple things in life: my dog or my cat, my chicken, my pig and goat, the lizard or the monkey. I can hear the hippies among us giving thanks for the smell of the fresh cut grass (double meanings here), or the sunrise, or the sound of the sea breaking on the shore. Some will give thanks for the turkey they are about to eat or the love we all share.
And I must ask: “When did Thanksgiving become about us?” When did we become the center of Thanksgiving and the focal point of what we are thankful for?
For Abraham Lincoln God was to be the focus of our thanks. Lincoln was smart enough to realize that we don’t create our own bounty. In fact, we don’t actually create anything. It is all a gift. Certainly, we are inventive, and we make things, but the reality is that we are only manipulating the things that are given to us from God. Even our minds, imaginations, knowledge, life, not to speak of the material riches of creation, are all given through the benevolence of a God who gives, shares, creates, and loves.
Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a day to give thanks to God – not to give thanks in general. For President Lincoln God is to be the focus of the day and of our thanks and he understood that we have a lot to be thankful for. So why are we focused on ourselves? When we focus on ourselves, we lose sight: we lose sight of the other, we lose sight of the important things, and most of all we lose sight of the One who really matters and makes a difference, the One who provides it all, and the One without whom none of it would exist – we lose sight of God. And if we lose sight of God, we surely will fail to find our way because without God we have no horizon to move toward, we have no guiding star to show us the way, and we replace God with ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I know that I would make a lousy god.
God our Father, we give thanks for your ever-watchful providence. Thank you for being God and thank you for caring for me, for caring for mine, and for caring for all of us. Thank you also for our great Nation. Keep us always in your providential care.