My wife marked a significant birthday last week. I offered to take her anywhere to celebrate and she chose Disney World. Since she grew up just a few blocks from Disneyland in California and we visited Disney World often while living in Atlanta, the trip was a nostalgic and fun week for us both.
However, one part of our vacation was a new experience: we had never visited Disney World in mid-November. We saw Christmas decorations everywhere we looked. Wreaths on the doors, garlands on the light poles and attractions, Christmas parades in the streets. We were told that more than 1,500 Christmas trees were placed on the various Disney World properties.
The decorations were beautiful. The parades, light shows, and fireworks were stunning. Disney World celebrates Christmas in grand style.
But another holiday was noteworthy for its absence.
A holiday or a holy day?
I don’t remember a single reference to Thanksgiving. Not one pilgrim or turkey on the grounds. It was as though this Thursday’s celebration of gratitude does not exist.
My purpose is not to criticize Disney World–it is to note that for most Americans, they’re right. Thanksgiving is a day for food and football followed by Black Friday sales on Thursday.
By contrast, when Governor Bradford issued his first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1623, he called “all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones” to assemble from nine to noon “to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
When Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national observance in 1863, he asked his “fellow citizens in every part of the United States” to set aside “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
How can this week’s holiday become the holy day it was intended to be?
“Be busy, and know that you are God”
I mentioned last Monday that Janet and I spent the previous weekend at the Billy Graham Training Center, where Dallas Baptist University sponsored a spiritual renewal retreat. Dr. Adam Wright, the university’s president, asked me to speak on Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
I have thought much about these words in the last week.
No more countercultural text could be selected. We hear every day the siren call, “Be busy, and know that you are God.” And we’re answering the call: Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.
We are especially busy at Christmas. Retail sales during November and December will total $720 billion. Retailers will hire as many as 650,000 temporary workers to compensate for the holiday rush.
We’re so tired when Christmas finally arrives that many of us order takeout for our holiday meal: Chinese food orders on Christmas Day are 153 percent higher than other days of the year.
We are busy because we think that being busy will make us better, more productive, more fulfilled. In short, we are answering Satan’s invitation to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). But there’s a better way.
“Be still, and know that I am God”
Why should we “be still,” retreating from the stress and strain of our culture into solitude and intimacy with God? Because this is the way to “know that I am God.” But why do we need to know that he is God?
Consider two facts from Psalm 46.
One: God is a “very present help in trouble” when we make him “our refuge and strength” (v. 1). However, we can be thankful for such help only to the degree that we experience it personally.
The fact that most Americans will miss Thanksgiving tells us that most Americans are missing the refuge and strength our Father offers us. Let’s not make this mistake.
What “trouble” are you facing today?
Two: Our Lord proclaims, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (v. 10). However, we can be thankful for this glorious future only to the degree that we exalt Jesus as Lord in the present.
The fact that most Americans will miss Thanksgiving tells us that most Americans are exalting someone or something more than God. Let’s not make this mistake.
What will you do to glorify Jesus today?
“The God of Jacob is our fortress”
Psalm 46 ends with this declaration: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (v. 11). If we trust God with our trouble and exalt him with our service, we will end our days and our lives with the same declaration.
And every day will be Thanksgiving