Updated: Dec 15, 2020
“Sing praises to His name, He forgets not His own.” - Adriaen Valerius
Ah, Thanksgiving Day; one of my three all time favorite holidays (the other two being Easter and Christmas). It’s possibly the most unique celebration of the year, due to the simple fact that it doesn’t involve giving or receiving anything. It’s centered on contentment. It’s a day for families to reflect and rejoice in what they have and in the experiences they lived. Not to mention, besides the feast days God established for Israel, America happens to be the first known country in earth’s six thousand year history to officially establish a day of giving thanks. That’s pretty telling how one-of-a-kind Thanksgiving Day is if you ask me.
I, like everybody else, love the warm fuzzies that come wrapped in the aromas of a spice laden kitchen. I love cooking savory dishes with my mom and sisters in the morning, watching the jubilant Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the restfulness that comes from counting God’s blessings one by one as the hours coast by. God’s goodness doubly washes over me. Then my thoughts hold fast to the words ‘All is well’ all day long. It’s heavenly bliss. I recognize, though, that for many families this Thanksgiving might feel a little different.
Loads of societal arguments linger in the air, but one thing I’m sure everyone can agree on is that 2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year. It’s not at all how anybody wanted to start a new decade. Civil unrest, pandemics, election frauds; it’d be unsurprising for us to feel like there’s much to be thankful about. (The canceling and attempted inhibiting of our traditional celebrations isn’t helping either.) We Christians, of course, rightly see this as God using current negatives for future positives, but let’s be honest here. Being stuck in the middle of the negative doesn’t get you feeling positive so well, does it?
Now, there’s nothing sinful about that. We’re allowed to feel down. Even Christ Himself endured emotional low-points so racking, modern doctors would have likely jumped to prescribe Him anti-depressants. I’m sure the Pilgrims felt as rattled as we are and then some too after they arrived in the New World. They suffered religious persecution; left everything inside a cramped, tub of a boat; were stuck in said boat for almost six months (and we think two months of quarantine is unbearable); and near half of the one hundred and two of these Pilgrims died from illnesses before the spring. Yet, despite all that, the Pilgrims happily celebrated a three day feast of thanks to God later that same year. They recognized how God preserved their colony. He provided for them to settle in a strange land, and then there was His greatest miracle of all. He orchestrated life-saving and peaceful relations between them and the most unlikely source: the nearby Native Americans. They didn’t let stigmatizing trauma steal their clarity and happiness. They had first-hand experienced God as their champion over death and fear. Delivery through trial was something to celebrate.
Hymn lovers, such as myself, tend to associate the song “We Gather Together” with Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. Ironically, it was actually written about twenty-three years earlier by a Dutch poet named Adriaen Valerius. The event that sparked him to create such a beautiful piece also sprang up from terrible circumstance. It was during the Eighty-years war. The Dutch were fighting the Spanish for religious freedom and independence, and in the 1597 Battle of Turnhout, the Dutch pulled out a massive victory. They defeated over 2,000 Spanish soldiers while they suffered a mere fifty or so casualties. It was quite the unexpected miracle - one that Adriaen recognized to be the divine hand of God. Yes, awful times threaten our contentment, but that doesn’t mean it has to. More so, it’s often the awful times when we seek and enjoy God’s near and dear presence the best.
So before we gather together around our family tables this Thanksgiving, I invite you to reflect on the trials of the Pilgrims. Ponder also on the profound lyrics God inspired a Dutch gentleman to write. For these are the stories and words from a people who suffered through an anxious season similar to the way we are right now, yet they in thankfulness drew close to God’s active care. And now, four hundred years exact after the Pilgrims first had that commemorative feast, we have the opportunity to experience this Thanksgiving the same way they did at a more personal level. It very well may be that this fall 2020 might shape up to be the most meaningful Thanksgiving of our time. So let us honor their memory this day by following their example. Let us consider our trials and be content that this troublesome time has increased our thirst and our awareness of God’s blessings all the more.
“We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His name, He forgets not His own.”
“Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
so from the beginning the fight we were winning;
thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be Thine!”
“We all do extol Thee, thou Leader triumphant,
and pray that Thou still our defender wilt be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!”
- Adriaen Valerius
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!