With Joyful Thanks
Grace United Methodist Church
November 29, 2009
1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13
9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Always after Thanksgiving, I just want to plop down in a chair and go, “Ahhhhhhhh!” Thanksgiving is a funny sort of holiday; somehow relaxing and tiring at the same time. Between cooking, eating, catching up with friends and family, and now Black Friday shopping; it’s enough to energize you and wear you out all in the matter of a few days. When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was my most favorite holiday because it was the one time every year that my whole family got together; all of us. We would gather at my grandparents’ house in North Carolina, or my aunt’s house in Virginia, or my own home in Oak Ridge. We would play and have fun. We enjoyed watching the parades, and my cousins could be found yelling at the TV screen in the afternoon as they watched football. Of course, there was always the adult table and the kid table. Funny how when you’re a kid you always want to be at the adult table, and when you’re an adult you want to be back at the kids’ table. With a banquet filling the kitchens of our homes, we would eat more than our fill and enjoy one another’s company for a few magical days each year. I remember one year in particular. It was probably the last time any significant number of us were together, as our ranks started to dwindle as we began going our separate ways, fanning out across the country and establishing new traditions with new families and friends. So on this particular year, we were all seated around one table preparing to eat our meal, and my grandfather asked that we go around the table and each share something for which we were thankful. I don’t remember specifically what any of us said anymore, or even what I said, but I know now what underlies all our many blessings. And I know what I would say today if asked that same question.
Merriam-Webster online defines thanksgiving as, “a public acknowledgment of Divine Goodness;” a public acknowledgment of Divine Goodness. It’s easy for us at Thanksgiving each year to offer our thanks for family and friends, for safety and security, for health and happiness. But do we so often make a public acknowledgment of the Divine Goodness in our lives; the fount of our blessings; our Source and Provider? “How can we thank God enough?” asks Paul of the early church at Thessalonica. When we really pause to think about all that God has done for us, how can we thank God enough?
Alex Haley, an East Tennessee native and the author of Roots, had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked, “Why is that there?” Alex Haley answered, “Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words and think that they are wonderful, and I begin to feel proud of myself, I look over at that turtle on top of the fence post and I remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help.”
We are here because God has brought us here. We are blessed because through Jesus Christ, God’s abundant grace has poured over us. It is so easy for us to forget all the blessings in our lives. It is so easy for us to say, “Woe is me!” One of the great mistakes of life is to turn to God only in the overpowering emergencies or the shattering crises. It is so easy for many of us to curse God; to blame God when catastrophe strikes. But we have things upside down! We live in a fallen world! We all sin! And yet, by the grace of God we still have the good times and the good things that we do have! It’s not as if we deserve them! Where would be without the help of the Lord, without the goodness of the Lord, without the love and faithfulness of our Savior? We can try to live without the help of God, but it really is an impossible assignment. Thanksgiving is about more than family gatherings and cranberry sauce; it’s about recognizing and proclaiming what our Savior has done for us! And how can we thank God enough for that?
One of the great and wonderful things about this time of year is that as the Thanksgiving season draws to a close, it ushers in Advent, and Advent affords us a special opportunity to really reflect on how we offer our thanksgiving to God. The word Advent comes from the Latin verb advenire, which means “to come toward, to draw near, to approach.” This is the time when we remember and celebrate God’s drawing near to us in Jesus Christ in the past, in the present, and in the age to come. We can certainly celebrate God’s nearness to us in Jesus Christ through worship and prayers lifting praise to God; but an even greater thanksgiving and celebration of God’s coming in Jesus Christ is our constant efforts to draw nearer to God in Christ Jesus ourselves. As Christmas approaches, and that time when we celebrate again the birth of our Savior, we are reminded that we have to prepare ourselves to meet God, and preparing to meet God means living daily with him. This is the underlying message of the passage we heard a few moments ago from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians; that through love of God and one another we might increase in holiness and be found “blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus.” We have to look to God and rely on God in all things just as the sailors in days gone by relied on the stars to chart their course. And just as a skilled sailor can hone such a navigational skill to near perfection, we too can grow in our likeness to Christ and our nearness to God as we seek more fervently God’s direction for our lives; striving always to grow closer to God.
Even as we work at drawing nearer to God ourselves, we can also grow in this Advent season and show our thanksgiving to God by proclaiming God’s goodness and seeking to bring others into God’s presence. Those of you who were involved in the Bible study on the book of James know that James ends his letter in essence by saying that the greatest good we can do is to bring another into God’s presence. A great part of thanking God enough is sharing the Good News of God’s grace and love with all the people around us. You know how it is; when something great happens in our lives, we want to share the wonderful news with everyone we know, and perhaps even everyone we don’t know! This should be no less true of God’s blessings in our own lives. Actually, it should be even more true!
There was a man who served as a medical missionary for many years in India. He served in an area where there was progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but there was something in that area that caused people to lose their sight as they matured. Well, this medical missionary developed a process that would stop progressive blindness. So people came to him and he performed his operation, and they would leave realizing that they would have become blind, but now they were going to be able to see for the rest of their lives. The people never said: “Thank you,” to this missionary because that phrase was not in their dialect.
Instead, they spoke a word that meant: “I will tell your name.” So, wherever they went, they would tell the name of the missionary who had cured their blindness. They had received something so wonderful that they eagerly proclaimed it! Have we not received something so wonderful that we eagerly proclaim it? God has been so good to us, and God loves us so much, and if we really want to thank God, we just can’t keep the wonderful news inside us! We have to go and tell the name of Christ in the world, especially in this Advent season, especially as CHRISTmas approaches!
How can we thank God enough? We thank God by living as God would have us to live; by worshiping and praising, by studying God’s Word and communicating with God through prayer. We thank God by preparing our hearts and seeking to draw nearer to God, even as God in Christ Jesus draws nearer to us; not just during this Advent season, but all throughout the year. We thank God by sharing the message of God’s great love, which has transformed and blessed us. We thank God by serving others in the name of Christ, and by bringing others nearer to God through our witness. We thank God by anticipating with great joy that day when we will celebrate “Emmanuel, God with Us,” as we all gather around the great Thanksgiving Table, with Christ the host in our midst, and young and old alike lifting voices together in praise of God’s Divine Goodness!