It’s an odd time of year. Officially, as we head into the holiday season, we have high expectations for good feelings that somehow are supposed to be evoked by traditions and family gatherings. We wax eloquent on the virtues of giving and urge one another on to works of charity and sacrifice. As well we should. Yet the onset of the holiday season seems all too readily a backdrop for greed, selfishness, and despair. One could get swamped in this wealth of irony and become disillusioned with the whole thing.
But I pause for a moment in my reflections of the Christmas season to point out that the “season” of Christmas begins with Thanksgiving. Yes, I realize that commercialism has been a strong influence on the attitude of our culture as companies urge for both an earlier start to the Christmas shopping season and for shoppers to indulge in a Christmas that is “bigger and better than ever before” (meaning, “more stuff is bigger and more expensive is better”).
Be that as it may, no matter who pushed for it or why, it seems to me that “thanksgiving” is an appropriate mindset for entering into an occasion in which many Americans are just a bit more interested in the spiritual and perhaps a bit more open to the touch of God’s grace.
And why would that be so? Well, people across the land are being robbed right and left… plundered perhaps not of material possessions, but of the much more elusive but infinitely more valuable commodity that we call “joy”. It’s not really that anyone can steal happiness per se, but people can allow themselves to be lured into attitudes and subsequent behaviors that leave them feeling cheated, slighted, or frustrated. Not quite finding a lasting joy as a result of whatever lifestyle they may have adopted, they continue to chase the phantoms of false promises that abound in a world of fakes and phonies.
Will a better job make him happy? Could a nicer house satisfy her? How about a new car or some new clothes? Or even a new husband or a new wife? Does it seem that I’m taking it to a ridiculous extreme? I don’t think so. I think that the signs of the times prove my point. The fact is that no matter what we may have, we obsessively look for something bigger and better. As a result, we are perilously close to having no capacity for contentment. And if we can’t be content with what we’ve been blessed, there can’t be any real sense of thanksgiving “seasoning the soup” of our fellowship with God.
After all, how can we simply “rest” in God’s loving presence when all we can think about is what we don’t have? How can we reside in an attitude of worship of our God when our hearts and minds are elsewhere? There is no adoration where the heart is distracted by preoccupation. So let us not waste God’s time by telling either Him or ourselves that we’re worshiping Him when our affections have been set on substitutes. When we do this, we ourselves are robbers for we have become accomplices in the stealing of God’s glory.
This then is the tremendous value of having a day set aside for expressing our thankfulness to God. If such thankfulness is genuine, it places us in the right spiritual posture before our Creator and Savior because it both professes God to be Provider as well as confesses that we are dependent upon His good will. It is also an occasion for us to render pleasure to Him in our appreciation of the mercies and gifts that He has lavished upon us (whatever they are in whatever measure He grants them).
If the Christmas season follows such attitudes and expressions of gratitude, then the reflective and celebratory tone of the holidays can truly be meaningful. In other words, if we will practice the discipline of thanking God for what we have and being content with that with which He has blessed us, we can gaze upon the coming of Jesus into the world as Savior and truly adore Him. We can adore Him and thank Him for His having thought of us and cared for us. We can humbly bow and praise Him for His having lived and died for us. Thankfulness widens the door of fellowship with God that faith in His atoning work on the cross of Christ opened for us.
So be thankful for that which God has blessed you, either in the giving to you or in the refusing to give to you. Be thankful for His provision for your life and set your eyes on His Son, not buying into the lie that you don’t have enough or that you need something more than the love that He has bequeathed to you through His Son. Don’t allow anyone or anything to break into the secret place of your heart and steal the joy and peace that God alone supplies.
“…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11b-13 ESV).
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 24 ½ years, is the author of Led by Grace, The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org).