In the midst of strife and conflict, we need a spirit of thanksgiving.
Jonathan P. Hackbarth
You are undoubtedly familiar with the childhood poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Lesser known is the author of that poem: an American writer named Sarah Hale. Even lesser known is the influence she had on the holiday we today call Thanksgiving.
The development of a national holiday
When it comes to the history of Thanksgiving, most Americans will point to the first Pilgrim celebration or perhaps President Lincoln. However, were it not for Sarah Hale, Thanksgiving may not be celebrated in the United States as it is today.
Most of us learned that the first Thanksgiving Day was celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621 to give thanks for the harvest after a terrible first winter in the New World. In 1789, President George Washington issued a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation to commemorate the first Pilgrim celebration. But Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president, discontinued it, calling Thanksgiving “a kingly practice.”
Then, in the early 1800s, Sarah Hale began campaigning for the restoration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She wrote letters and sought appointments with national leaders through the course of five presidencies. Time after time she was politely rebuffed, sometimes being told her suggestion was impossible or impractical.
Finally, in 1863—in the midst of the Civil War—President Lincoln listened seriously to her plea that North and South “lay aside enmities and strife on [Thanksgiving] Day.” Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November as the official “National Thanksgiving Day.” This day was finally ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1941.
The need for a spirit of gratitude
Perhaps we need a “Thanksgiving lady” like Sarah Hale to campaign for a spirit of Thanksgiving today—not for a national holiday because we already have that, but for a spirit of gratitude within our hearts. And consider when she lobbied for Thanksgiving. The nation was divided, families were split apart by ideological differences, and strife and armed conflict created cemeteries for the dead. While it’s not in the midst of a civil war, much the same could be said about our nation today!
What is the current conflict that scrolls across the headlines? Is it the ever-increasing violence in our world, both near and far? Is it the seeming downward spiral of decency and decorum among so many talking heads and influential voices in our nation? Is it conflict in your family? In your marriage? Is it a nagging discontent with your lot in life?
In the midst of all this, hear Scripture’s call for a spirit of thankfulness, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Christ has ended the eternal conflict caused by our sin. Conflict and strife will remain part of this world’s headlines. But we are at rest; we are at peace. Jesus is our rest and peace, and heaven is our home. So no matter what the circumstances, we can live with a spirit of gratitude through Jesus.
On this the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, consider the following prayer for God-pleasing thankfulness, written by Dr. Martin Luther:
Ah, dear Lord God, only grant that we may believe and thank thee, who hast been so concerned about us, yea, hast given us everything in Christ. For this is the great and unspeakable mystery, hidden from all the wisdom of the flesh, that God, who to us is the heavenly and omnipotent Father in his majesty, actually died. He gave everything to his Son, who is of our flesh. To him he directs us. If we hear and accept him, we shall have everything. (What Luther Says, Vol. 3, #4360)
Jonathan Hackbarth is pastor at Salem, Woodbury, Minnesota.
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Author: Jonathan P. Hackbarth
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017
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