“I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Give Thanks

Isaiah 12

This time ff year many, many, many families gather. Loved ones come from far and near to gather. People book airline flights, pack bags, and load up in cars. Friends and families gather in kitchens watching loved ones put the finishing touches on the sweet potato casserole, dressing, and green beans. Some of us may even gather on a cold Thanksgiving Day around a deep fryer as someone tends to the turkey…. this is after all Alabama. Regardless, we gather. When family has arrived, the table has been set; the food (oh the wonderful food) is placed on the table, each person sits down. Someone offers the blessing (if you are in my family it is the youngest child, I once lead everyone in a lovely rendition of Johnny Appleseed) and the feast begins. Along with this wonderful feast is the equally wonderful conversation.

For many families who are spread throughout our great nation, Thanksgiving might be the only time everyone gathers at the family table for a meal and conversation. In each home the conversation is different. For some it is a time to catch up, for others the conversation might center on the upcoming football game and speculation about Bowl games. If you are in my family, the talk will more than likely center on the Iron Bowl. However, for others the conversation might be a bit different.

This week a wonderful person in our church told me about her families yearly Thanksgiving dinner conversation. Each year she asks her children to share that for which they are most thankful. Each year they give her a bit of grief responding, “seriously mom, again this year… We do this every single year!” Eventually they like each year before, give in to her request. Each person around her table shares that for which they are most thankful. Each year her hear is warmed and she is always, always surprised at what they share.

Thankfulness is not something that is often our first response. Often, we have to be reminded to be thankful. To return thanks to God. On Veterans Day I went to Birmingham to spend the afternoon with one of my best friends that I had not seen in awhile. Amanda and I ate lunch at Chuey’s, a new restaurant at the Summit. As we sat down at the table, placing our napkins in our laps, I noticed that the sleeves that the silverware was in had prayers of them. Each of these prayer returned thanks for the food. There was a Catholic, a Jewish, and a Protestant prayer. These served as a reminder, to a society that is busy and consumed with their plans, to return thanks back to God.

The prophet, Isaiah in our scripture reading this morning reminds the nation of Israel to return thanks. As a divided people suffering through war and hardship, Isaiah’s words serve as a reminder. These are a people at war Syria, about to be conquered by the Assyrians, but Isaiah reminds them “Good things are yet to come.” They are about to be tossed into Babylonian exile. They will be strangers in a foreign land. The Temple, their symbol of God, will be destroyed. It seems like there is little if anything to be thankful for, yet Isaiah proclaims! “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD!” The Israelites do not need to fear because day of Thanksgiving is coming! The people of Israel do not need to fear because they will be reunited. They will be redeemed. They will have salvation. It will be like the time when King David was ruler over Israel. Things will be better. Good days are yet to come!

How often to we feel like these Israelites. Life confronts all of us with struggles. We face hardships in various forms. We worry about the wars that we send our military off to fight. We concern ourselves with our children. Families face challenges. The economy places a hardship on many individuals wondering if they will have a job this time next year. Last week we remember those that we have lost from this community of faith. We find ourselves worrying about what will happen next. What life will be like in a year? How our children will fair in school. Perhaps we often feel like the Israelites.

It seems like one thing after another confronts us with challenges both to our daily life and also our spiritual lives. We wonder if it will ever stop. But be assured, “Good things are yet to come!” Isaiah proclaims! “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD!”

I consider myself a novice runner… nothing like the marathon runner sitting behind me. Thursday evening I went for a run. Although my mind if often occupied with “can I make it to the next intersection, up the next hill, maybe I can make it to the house on the corner,” this evening was different. I began to pray. I started to thank God for all the good that was in my life. Like that family sitting around the table I began to list all the things for which I am thankful. To my surprise the list when on and on. When I began to list them I was surprised at what all came to mind…Steve, my family, my friends, this community of faith… then came the things that I did not expect. I am thankful for the way our denomination as affirmed my call to ministry. I thanked God for the family that raised the man I will marry in May. I thanked the Lord for those I have the opportunity to visit with on Tuesday afternoons. I thanked our Savior for our children and the way they always greet me with a smile on Wednesday evenings. Finally I thanked our Creator for the beautiful clear night sky, for God’s creation, and that I was able to enjoy it on such a cool evening. I was reminded of the words found in Isaiah, “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD!”

One of the things that I have found most interesting in the past few weeks is our “Thanksgiving tree.” This is located just outside of Pratt Hall. The bulletin board next to the kitchen, if you have not noticed it, has a table next to it. On that table are leaves made out of construction paper for you to write and place on the bulletin board. We are encouraged to write those things for which we are thankful on the leaves. What a great idea Annette Brownell had when she placed those leaves next to the board and encouraged to list that for which we are thankful.

Last Wednesday, I noticed a group of children reading each leaf. They all noticed the wide variety of things that people in our church were thankful for during this season. Among those were: family, friends, pets, schools, spouses, our community, and our church. As “grown-ups” passed the tree they asked the adults if they had placed their thanksgivings on the tree. Many had, others that had not found themselves challenged by a very excited group of children. All that had not written something on a leaf responded to the children’s request by placing their thanksgivings on the “Thanksgiving tree.”

As the holiday season is fast approaching, we are already seeing signs of Christmas through advertisements in the newspaper and on our televisions. It seems like our secular world goes directly from Halloween costumes and candy to Christmas morning with no regard for Thanksgiving. Walking around Phipps Plaza, a large mall in Atlanta, a few weeks ago while I was in the area for a continuing education event, I was amazed literally dumbfounded that Christmas decorations were all ready decking the halls of the mall. Mid October, mind you. Where was Thanksgiving in the midst of all of this? Have we, as a society, forgotten to be thankful? Have we forgotten to “thank God from who all blessing flow?” It seems like we skip over the songs like “Come ye thankful people come” to “Santa Clause is coming to town.” Where are our grateful hearts?

Regardless of life’s challenges, we are called to be thankful. The words of Isaiah state is clearly “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD!” We are called to be thankful. Regardless of our circumstance there are many things in all of our lives for which we can return thanks.

We should approach Thanksgiving with the excitement of the children looking at our bulletin board. We should approach Thanksgiving with the eagerness of that mother who asks her children each and every year “What are you thankful for?” We should anticipate this time of togetherness with friends and family, this time of remembering how important each individual is in our lives, with the same wonder we approach Christmas. So, this week, as we prepare for the upcoming holiday, as you plan a menu, make plans for travel or clean your house for visitors, as you eagerly anticipate November 24th take a few moments and remember that for which you are most thankful. Remember your friends, your parents, and your children. Remember your child’s teachers, remember our city leaders, remember your communities of faith, remember the community of saints that formed and shaped you. Remember and give thanks. Give thanks to our Creator. Give thanks to our God “from whom all blessing flow.” Give thanks. Tell those for whom you are thankful that they have been such a blessing in your life. They need to know that you are thankful for the impact that they have had on your life. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD!”

The mother that always asks her children “for what are you most thankful” is amazed at their responses each year. She anticipates this Thanksgiving dinner conversation with great joy. Each year she gets a new glimpse at the lives of her children. They are not just thankful for the food before them, but they often respond that they are thankful that they have an opportunity to be in school, or that in this type of economy that they have a job. So, I ask you “for what are you most thankful?” “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD!”

Let us give thanks to God our Creator Redeemer and Sustainer- who is, who was, and who is to come.

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