Sun Trust Bank has been running an ad on Pandora lately. It features a mother talking about how one year, when funds were tight, her family wrote letters to each other instead of purchasing gifts. While her family was skeptical at first, they ultimately appreciated the letters and were reminded that the Christmas season is about family.
Here in the US we have entered into the “holiday season,” a time of generosity contrasted with materialism, the sacred juxtaposed with the commercial. It is so easy to get caught up in the public celebrations of “the holidays” that we lose sight of what Christmas is all about. I have a unique perspective on this; I spent many years living in a traditionally Buddhist country, and I observed how they focused on the secular elements of the Christmas celebration. Each year, I clearly felt something was missing; for me, Christmas is not Christmas without a celebration of the coming of our Savior. It may be cheesy, but the expression “Jesus is the reason for the season” has always resonated with me.
We must be careful to make sure that this element is not missing from our celebrations this year. How can we do this? I believe thankfulness is the antidote for the commercialism and greed that can be so rampant at this time of the year, and I believe it is no coincidence that the doorway to the holiday season in the US is Thanksgiving Day. It sets our hearts in the right attitude, if we can only guard it through Black Friday and to the end of December.
We are often exhorted to be thankful, but what does that really mean? While “thanks” or “thanksgiving” are mentioned all throughout the Bible, especially in the Book of Psalms and in the New Testament Epistles, did you realize that thankfulness is not one of the fruits of the Spirit? I found this surprising, and it implies that thankfulness has its origin not with God but with us; it is our attitude towards God, our choice in how we respond, a deliberate decision.
In Leviticus, God gave Moses instructions for offering sacrifices. Among these were the peace offerings, of which one was the thanksgiving offering. According to Jewish scholars, the peace offering was a sign of friendship with God, and it affirmed that the person offering the sacrifice was in covenant with God. Another characteristic is that the peace offerings were spontaneously offered; there were no set times for these offerings, so they were initiated by individuals.
These details indicate to me that it is my choice, my decision, my deliberate act to be thankful. Thanksgiving is more than optimism or positive thinking; it is a choice to focus my attention on the very real blessings of God which can bring a fresh sense of security and well-being no matter the circumstances. I don’t believe it to be a denial of reality to look at my current situation, with all the challenges I am facing, and declare how thankful I am for the life I have.
I know that many find themselves in harsh circumstances, and it may be difficult to find something to be thankful for. If this is your case, you can start with this list of five things to thank God for, provided by Pastor Rick Warren in his message Being Thankful Even in Bad Times:
- The grace God has shown us
- The plans God has for us
- The promise God will never leave us
- The changes God is making in us
- The home God has prepared for us (heaven)
During this Christmas season, I challenge you to deliberately set yourself to be thankful, not just on Thanksgiving Day but throughout this season and the rest of the year. Join me as I challenge myself to daily thank God for His blessings. Be mindful to thank those around you for their love, support, and presence in your life. As you do, you will find yourself better able to extend God’s love and grace to those around you, no matter your circumstances.
Links and Resources
Rick Warren – Being Thankful Even In Bad Times
100 Bible Verses on Thankfulness
Articles on Jewish peace offerings: