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Listen to the 10 min audio
Read the transcript:
TOM LAMPRECHT: Well, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Harry, it was President Abraham Lincoln that first established Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Then, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office, he was celebrating Thanksgiving on the last day of the month.
However, as they went through the Depression, many retailers petitioned the president to move Thanksgiving back by a week so they could have a longer time to celebrate the Christmas season and sell their goods to the folks getting ready for Christmas.
Well, traditionally, Thanksgiving Day has been sort of a kickoff for the Christmas celebration, although I have to say my wife and I went on vacation back in September, we stopped by a Cracker Barrel in mid-September, and the shop was in full Christmas regalia.
As we look back on how Thanksgiving was established, it is so much more than just a time to kick off the Christmas season.
DR. REEDER: Tom, we all are aware of the Thanksgiving that the Pilgrims had. Many folks are going to schools that are trying to rewrite history and say, “Well, they really were just giving thanks to the Indians.”
No, you have to be honest: They gave thanks to the Lord who had sustained them and one of his means had been the Indians so they joined together in the feast, which was just a great statement.
George Washington initiated a Thanksgiving Day. He would have a regular day of prayer, humiliation and fasting and then a day of thanksgiving and feasting. And then Lincoln, of course as you know, instituted the regular observance of it.
Until then, it’d just been each president would do it in terms of their term of office and they would, every year, do what we would call an executive order. However, now it became the law of the land, so we would celebrate Thanksgiving.
Then, it began to be seen as, “We could get more Christmas sales because people like to start buying for Christmas after Thanksgiving so let’s move Thanksgiving back and get another week for buying Christmas things.”
And so, now, the mercantile dynamic, and the economic dynamic and the consumer dynamic has pretty well taken over the substance of what it’s supposed to be so now you have Black Friday and you have all of those things associated with the sales, etc.
Christians just march lock-step into it and we wonder where has the meaning of Christmas and Thanksgiving gone as we participate in the new Christmas and Thanksgiving, which is economic consumerism and the GNP.
Obviously, I think it’s fine to go shopping and do all of those things – I’m not a legalist on this – but I would just love for believers to stop, and take stock of this, and say, “As for me and my house, we’re going to serve the Lord, not the season as defined by the world and here’s how we’re going to celebrate it.”
I’d certainly like to raise my voice in concern when people remove the Biblical understanding of Thanksgiving or even try to remove the name of Christ from Christmas, but my bigger concern is what do believers do with it and what do we in the church do with it?
Therefore, I want us to make sure that we’re not simply baptizing the world’s view of Christmas and Thanksgiving and making it just a day of nostalgia and a day of measuring everything by what I got, and who I gave it to and all of the things that have invaded the celebration of the birth of the Savior of sinners who would be proclaimed to all the nations of the world.
Tom Lamprecht: Abraham Lincoln, when he observed that first holiday and declared the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day, that was in 1863.
DR. REEDER: Right.
Tom Lamprecht: How did that relate to what was going on in our country at that time?
DR. REEDER: Well, what it really relates to is his conversion with his son, Willie, who was dying of typhoid, and an African-American servant in the White House who was sharing the Gospel with him, and the recalling of what his mother had said, and, also a Presbyterian pastor who had helped him in the death of his oldest son and then a Quaker Christian woman who was ministering to him.
All of those things coincided with the horrors of the Civil War and he began to write something called “Meditations Upon the Divine Will,” and you can see the process of God bringing him to conversion because, up until then, he was a skeptic of Christianity.
When you read his Gettysburg Address, which is post his conversion, the Second Inaugural Address, which he made before his assassination – all of those things – and then read the memoirs of Dr. Phineas Gurley, the New York Avenue Presbyterian pastor who was discipling him during those years, it’s amazing what happened between ’62 and ’63.
And, in that time, he decided he adopted George Washington’s desire that the country would have as a motto, “In God We Trust,” and, also, he began to proclaim the fact that this nation, while it was not a theocracy, was a nation that was under God, and that it was theistic, and that our founding documents insisted upon that. And then he also wanted Thanksgiving to be borrowed from George Washington’s tradition and instituted, as well.
And so that’s how that process came into being and, by the way, in the 1950s, a couple of senators grasped that and that’s when they introduced, by law, that coinage would have “In God We Trust” and “Under God,” the phrase from the Gettysburg Address was introduced into a humanist, statist thing called “The Pledge of Allegiance.” And so “Under God” was put into that and totally changed that which is why we always pause when we put “Under God” in there because it wasn’t in the original.
Tom Lamprecht: Harry, so many of the other holidays in the church calendar commemorate an event that took place, and it’s great to do that, but you think of the birth of Christ, the crucifixion of Christ, His ascension, but Thanksgiving is somewhat unique in that it doesn’t commemorate or celebrate as much as it is a day of reflection and gratitude.
DR. REEDER: Well it’s not something in the church calendar that focuses upon a particular aspect of the work of Christ such as His birth, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, Pentecost Sunday, etc., but it is a distinctly American experience of Christians who said, “We are what we are by the grace of God so we want to give thanks to God,” and so it became an American holiday that the church then incorporated.
It didn’t originate in the church and go to the nation – it originated in the impact of Christianity in the nation and then the church has made use of it. Now, clearly, every Lord’s Day, you ought to give thanks and every Christian ought to give thanks continually, but to establish a season whereby we have an open door to the nation and a reminder to us as a church of the great virtue of Thanksgiving and how that fuels every act of my Christian life – my obedience, my worship, my love, my devotion – all of those things are out of gratitude.
I’m not paying Jesus back for my redemption – I’m receiving a gift from Him and now I want to give Him thanks with every area of my life.
Thanksgiving is a great opportunity that we shouldn’t lose as individual believers because of what we can say to our families and we shouldn’t lose as the Lord’s family, the church, because of what we can say to individuals and families about how Thanksgiving is a way of life and the event can be used to promote the lifestyle.
Tom Lamprecht: Every day ought to be the day of Thanksgiving for believers and you said, “Well, yeah, that’s true, but there should be a special day”?
DR. REEDER: Exactly, and I think you’re not taking away from the fact that every day should be a day of Thanksgiving to take one day and focus upon Thanksgiving and use that day to propel Thanksgiving as a way of life so they’re not antithetical to each other that you can use the event to promote the lifestyle and the lifestyle can enhance the event.
And, Tom, may I just say, as our folks are hearing us today and perhaps at Thanksgiving or going to Thanksgiving meals, then take some time to read Scripture from the Psalms to give thanks. Go around and each individual – we love to this – and each individual shares what they’re thankful for and have a time of prayer of Thanksgiving.
Just make use of that table of feast to give thanks to the Lord and encourage each other in your families. Go out and do something in ministry to those who don’t have as many reasons to give thanks as you do this day. Just find ways to do that. Now, that’s something to really turn Thanksgiving into a learning moment as well as a praise opportunity.
One other thought: Some of the folks in our church set a place at the table to commemorate those soldiers who are serving and those who have lost their lives in the keeping of our freedoms in this country to give thanks to the Lord for them.
Those are just a couple of thoughts.
Tom Lamprecht: And we do hope you’ll apply those thoughts as your family celebrates this Thanksgiving Day.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin. Jessica is editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News. Jessica has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and her work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.