Rev. Steve Schlissel - November 29, 2013
Of all red-letter days on the American calendar, Thanksgiving is an easy pick for favorite–and that goes double for Christians. Why?
To begin, I’d say that any semblance of observance of a feast with a name like this demands a personal God on the receiving end of those thanks. This is an implicit concession reaching much higher than any religious sentiment currently passing muster as fit for public voicing. The Incredibles–the self-appointed clown-guardians of the public trust–get palpitations when they hear suggested or breathed the proposition that a Designer is a logical requirement for anyone wanting honest answers to the evidence treated by science. But on Thanksgiving, the entire nation flies past the clowns to a place where mere linguistic considerations reveal how modest indeed is insistence on a Designer. Here He is a Lord to whom thanks must be rendered. Get the paddles!
Second, a feast of purely human origin, i.e., one not traceable to an explicit divine command, ought minimally to show the humility and good sense to respect those that are. Thanksgiving, I’m delighted to say, is one of very few holidays which never imposes itself upon, or dares to usurp power from, the Lord’s Day.
Moreover, Thanksgiving is a favorite because it is, of all holidays, the least affected, that is, it’s the plainest. Its name explains its raison d’être as clearly as it declares the fundamental activity to be performed on it. The same can hardly be said for Christmas–or Easter, or Passover for that matter. If the first-mentioned shared this characteristic, it would not be called Christ’s Mass but “A celebration of the Messiah/Savior’s birth expressed principally in the purchase and exchange of gifts, which, as a consequence, obliterates any meaningful consideration of His birth, let alone celebration.” Passover recalls the occasion being memorialized but not the manner of the same, and (the name of) Easter is a struggle to justify. But Thanksgiving is a “say what you mean and mean what you say” day.
The roots of Thanksgiving include our first president, who was obeying the instructions given him by a newborn child of the Constitution: the US Congress. Apparently, they hadn’t understood that they were required by the First Amendment to honor the mythical “Wall,” to say not just little, but nothing whatever concerning some Deity who actually GOVERNS in the affairs of men. Speaking of the Wall, Tommy Jeff himself must have misunderstood himself (if the modern revisionists are correct) for he used his elective office as Governor of Virginia to make an OFFICIAL pronouncement which not only reasoned to a moral demand resting upon all citizens to render thanks to the Living God–he also fulfilled that demand by rendering the required thanks. The ACLU is reportedly looking for a time machine that works so they may go back and litigate, to sue the man they pretend buttered their bread.
Thanksgiving keeps things simple. Someone said, “Hey! God blessed us. Let’s thank Him–by eating those blessings in a festal meal of self-conscious gratitude rendered unto Him.” Somebody else said, “Great idea,” and that’s about it. It is as fundamental and close to the bone as a holiday could be. Ironic, isn’t it, that this holiday most lean is known for the most fat? But that’s the point: Get at the fat, with gratitude to the Giver. [FOOTNOTE]
Now the preceding paragraph might lead to the thought, “Well, it’s nice that Thanksgiving’s name spells out the incumbent duties, but surely you’re not suggesting ALL who celebrate the November feast are necessarily and in fact GIVING thanks.” No. I’m simply suggesting that, because its purpose and activity are so close to the surface, it is harder to be a participant while hiding behind…what?
There is the point! Since the only thing called for is the giving of thanks, participants are more vulnerable to sharp, simple challenge. For example, it is often said of people that they have “the Christmas spirit” because their house is seasonally decorated, or they splurge on gifts, or watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “March of the Wooden Soldiers,” or see “Nutcracker” or “Messiah” performed, or participate in any of the limitless secondary and tertiary activities which have grown out from that holiday’s root (with greatly varying degrees of legitimacy). But Thanksgiving is shy on such hiding places.
No, it doesn’t make the human heart more righteous, or any the better for participating in a Thanksgiving feast. But, with its single, glorious claim riding along the surface, it requires a more radical step to shield participants from the claims and expectations accompanying its self-evidently correct reason for being.
Yes, radical steps have at times been taken (and a lament concerning another will be found below). Calling it Turkey Day, for example. That certainly wipes out its meaning. And you know that is why we can be certain that, come November, our profligate media will invariably, unimaginatively be found driveling along just such stupid paths, annually unfurling their folly by confining coverage to features about turkeys (how many, from whence, up close and personal turkey interviews, feather-counts, etc., etc.).
More recently Thanksgiving has been the target of an attack a few degrees more subtle: it will be featured as background in movies devoted to attacking, destroying, or just plain demeaning the family. But that is actually a testimony in support of what I’ve here contended: with Thanksgiving, the holiday itself is very difficult to attack. So instead, we see it employed as an occasion to attack families, for such is Thanksgiving’s native to be together. The intimate connection of the name with the feast has shielded it in the same way that simple, earnest people seem sometimes to have a special, a divine protection, like a vest that repels bullets of scorn even before they leave the gun. Not many, even today, want to score points so badly that they will apply for a permit to sponsor the Parade of Ingrates.
This sort of directness and plainness–some might be surprised to learn–is found throughout Scripture. We are likely to forget this after observing the historical predilection of covenant beneficiaries to (if I am permitted to verbize) elaboratize and adorn anything God gives them in the way of RESPONSibility. Talmudic Judaism scorched and condemned by THE Prophet, reappeared shot for shot in Romanism, a gross distortion of Christianity. And the gleg reader might consider how this brings before us the motive power of “elaboratization”–it provides more places to hide (first, from God [ha!] then from other men.) Both false systems were erected on the bedrock of presumption. They asked, “But how can we know HOW to obey God?” as a calling card announcing themselves as the answer-bearers.
For example, the rabbinic nonsense surrounding Sabbath observance is built upon their pompous answer to “Exactly what is the labor we are to refrain from which God permits on 6 days only?” It is passing interesting to see how Pauline Christianity answers to Christ’s implicit demands in the Sermon on the Mount for a faith that doesn’t nitpick for others yet takes God at His Word for themselves. The 39 CATEGORIES of work as formulated by rabbis with TOO MUCH TIME are the inevitable sorts of craziness which must follow the assumption that God CARES about things He has NOT commanded of us. (In saying this I do not dismiss the entire corpus as valueless–simply as predicated upon a fiction of complexity and shadows, not to mention upon a God who can’t make Himself known or clear.)
For simplicity, think of Jesus’ summations (mercy not sacrifice; love God and neighbor, etc.). For the faithful, “What does The Lord require of you?” is an answerable question. For charlatans (and some professing Calvinists) it is a gold paved entrance to the inevitable exploitation and oppression of an “am ha-oretz” class.
Thanksgiving is glorious in that its simplicity has served as Teflon, keeping it from the grasp of such wheelers and dealers. What began as plain–and plainly beautiful–has continued to admit of the same lovely qualities. “God gave us food. Let’s eat it, thankfully.” This is the burden of Ecclesiastes rightly understood in its resolution! And compare Isaiah 1, or Psalm 50, where The Lord rebukes Israel and says, “Who asked for all this hullabaloo junk of yours? If you want to pad things here or there, that’s one thing. But don’t DARE offer your padding for the substance I require.” And He says, “You know what I want from you? I want you to thank me for delivering you. And if you REALLY want to make me happy, the next time you find yourself in a fix, call on Me again. Then I’ll answer and then you can thank Me. Get it?” This is the simple but intense True Religion from God’s hand. It is as different from Talmudism and Romanism both (but not only) as the Gospel is from a Dan Brown fantasy. What the God-given version is built upon and protects is the PERSONAL. The believer is not permitted to lose sight of the REAL, personal God personally involved in his life and answering his pleas. And the believer shows that by continuing to call–and thank!
“And eat. And thank Him. And call and thank and eat.” Few (if any) holidays are built upon and effectively protect that treasure quite like Thanksgiving. Surely that is why we’ve now come to see a clever strategy which has the makings of a winner, capable of delivering a knock-out punch because delivered from a corner we weren’t guarding.
What is the threat? How delivered? It is in binding Thanksgiving to Christmas in such a way that its distinctiveness totally evaporates. This goes far beyond Advent and its liturgical amenities. These are all in process of becoming nothing more than handles by which Satan is taking hold of a thorn in his side, to remove it. For many years now, Thanksgiving has been touted as the kickoff to Christmas. But the last several have seen the entire day buried under America’s insatiable consumer lust and tattooed as Black Friday (which is already a misnomer since the Thursday is reportedly overshadowing Friday annually). Thanksgiving devolves into pure commercial, giving Americans the excuse the Devil knew they’d love, permitting them to empty the day of all value, subjecting it to the very duplicity that killed Christmas. Satan is a foe who should not be underestimated.
Black Friday may be the nail in the coffin of the last legacy which was easy to entrust to succeeding generations. Your commercial complicity in Satan’s effort could be determinative. Resist it, and perhaps we’ll watch him flee. Yield and WE will be put to flight that much sooner.
Weaklings of America: Resist!
It isn’t surprising that guilt-laden Americans vacillate between overdoing it on fats and then doing without them. Americans’ “faddistic” diets reveal more about their hearts than their stomachs. Like Jackie Mason observed: walk into a health food store and what do you see? People looking sea-sick green, like they’re ready to plotz any moment. Walk into a Jewish deli and you’ll see pastrami and corned beef stuffed into larger-than-life sandwiches, balanced in the hands of large, joyous people. Which sight can survive comparison with the prophet’s eschatological vision? Isaiah speaks not of a wheatgrass party, nor of the Lord having a few people over for sprouts and yogurt. God’s party, he says, is where is “the LORD of Hosts will make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees [that probably means California wines :)], and fat things full of marrow”?