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Dennis Tucker & James McClenny
On Thursday most Americans will celebrate the first of our three big winter holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a very exciting time of year as families gather to visit, eat, and spend time together reconnecting. It’s also a great time to remember God by thanking Him for all our blessings.
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching it’s also good to ask if Christians should observe it as a holiday. The question is important because there is no Biblical duty for any individual to observe a special day of Thanksgiving, and there is no authority for us to make it some form of church activity. But, with that clarification, the answer is a resounding Absolutely, as long as we know it’s a family activity and not a church activity.
In a discussion of individual liberty, Paul states that if a person keeps a day as a holy day to the Lord it’s between that person and the Lord. As long as no one imposes it on others we’re not to judge (Romans 14:5-8). All are free to keep the day or not as long as they give thanks to God. So, those who celebrate Thanksgiving with family can do so without comment from those who don’t. Those who don’t keep it at all are not to be judged either.
If you’re wondering why spend time on something that we probably all agree about, it’s because we all need the lesson of Romans 14 today just as they did in the first century. Plus it’s important to step back and review the things we do to make sure we’re submitting to the will of God.
When it comes to Thanksgiving there’s an OT event that is very similar to our Thanksgiving holiday – the feast of Tabernacles. In Lev 23:33-43 the practice and purpose is spelled out.
“On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’”
Notice the first comparison is the timing: “When you have gathered in your crops”. The only contemporary account of the first American Thanksgiving kept by the Pilgrims in 1621 was by Edward Winslow and starts with “Our harvest being gotten in”. The exact time was never recorded, but it was likely held in September or October which corresponds with the seasons and the date set for the OT Feast of Tabernacles. The November date for our current observation was a later determination for other reasons.
The second comparison is that it was a celebration of God’s provision. Considering half the pilgrims died from hunger, disease and cold during the previous winter, having a harvest with enough to live through the next winter was truly a reason to celebrate. The Feast of Tabernacles (or booths) is so named for the temporary dwellings during the 40 year sojourn when all their food and water was provided by God. Wal-Mart is great, but let’s be thankful to the God who makes the food to fill its shelves.
The third comparison is that it’s a genuine celebration. When families gather there’s a sense of joy and happiness that’s unique as they join together around the table to talk and eat, and talk and eat, and eat some more, without the anxiety of gift giving that comes at Christmas. They just revel in each other and the bounty God provided. There is a similar quality to the Feast of Booths as it was the one feast wherein God told Israel to celebrate and rejoice. Three times God said “celebrate” and even added an instruction to “rejoice” in the blessings of God. Historical records of the festival indicate that it was genuinely filled with joyous celebration—a true Thanksgiving.
As noted earlier Thanksgiving is purely an individual activity that any Christian is free to celebrate. Or not. The choice is yours. It’s not an activity of the church, nor can the church prohibit anyone from celebrating it. Indeed it’s a great opportunity to remember our blessings and remind family and friends that all blessings flow from God. So if you celebrate Thanksgiving this week then make sure you celebrate and rejoice and let everyone know that you know Him from whom all your blessings flow.
Oh, and make sure you remember that the greatest blessing of all is our precious salvation brought through the blood of Jesus. That blessing is worth more than all the turkey and dressing in the world. Don’t be afraid to remind everyone that He is the greatest reason to rejoice (1 Peter 1:3-9).
" And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD,
choose you this day whom ye will serve; . . .
but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Joshua 24:15 (KJV)
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