This year, Thanksgiving Day falls on Thursday the 26th of November, marking 231 years to the exact date of the first Thanksgiving Day proclaimed by President George Washington. Forgive the cliche of quoting from Washington’s proclamation, but the simple fact is Washington issued a near-perfect statement of how Americans ought to think about the Thanksgiving holiday, and it’s worth honoring by remembrance.
A mere three paragraphs, Washington’s proclamation begins with an acknowledgement, the proclamation itself follows, and the president concludes with a request for the American people.
First, Washington acknowledges it is “the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.” These days, Americans are very fond of demanding that government protect our various and innumerable rights. Undoubtedly, the purpose of just government is to secure the rights and liberties of its citizens. But a system of self-government such as we have will fail and will be unjust if the people, who are sovereign, do not recognize their duties. We each have a duty to our neighbors to respect their rights. We have a duty to follow just laws. To be good citizens. To be kind to one another, to serve each other, to help those in need, and for Washington, to be thankful for God’s provisions and to pray for his protection and favor.
In recognition of this duty, Washington proclaims “Thursday the 26th day of November next” to be a day for “the People of these States” to devote to God. Americans are to thank Him, “the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be” for “his kind care and protection,” for his mercy during the Revolutionary War, for the “tranquillity, union, and plenty” which followed, for “the peaceable and rational manner” in which the new American government was established, and “for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed,” the “means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge,” and also for “all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.”
These blessings here recounted are permanent things. Americans continue to enjoy the goodness God has shown to our forefathers, which speaks of God’s eternal nature. The sovereign King of Heaven, in His boundless mercy, saw fit to permit a rag-tag assembly of English colonists to overthrow the most powerful empire on earth and raised up wise political leaders to frame a Constitution that’s lasted for 233 years — a Constitution that to this day protects your rights and liberties and enables you to read this article in the safety of your own home, surrounded by family and friends and delicious food that, Lord willing, will last for several days.
And for those less fortunate, who may lack family or friends and food, did God not provide a country with many who can share with their countrymen? It is a great sin and transgression indeed for those of us who can share to neglect our duties to those who lack.
Yet sin is a reality we all must confront. People treat each other wickedly. We are unkind in our words. We are hateful and murderous in our thoughts. We are greedy, selfish, and self-serving, neglectful and thoughtless of those in need. We are proud and boastful, yet who can truly say they’ve always done right and never harmed another by word or deed? We lie to each other. We only love those who love us first, and even then we love poorly. We are unforgiving. And we’re too often ungrateful.
This is why, in the third paragraph, Washington requests that the American people “unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”
The greatest blessing freely offered by God to man is pardon for our sins. God offers forgiveness for all the wrongs we’ve done to Him and to each other to those who repent. Once free of our individual and national sins, He enables us “whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed.”
So giving thanks to God doesn’t simply involve thankful prayer, though that is important and necessary! It also involves obedience to His will, which is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We must repent of our sins toward one another and pray for forgiveness. We must love each other by performing our duties as citizens, which is to act righteously, to obey just laws, to respect each other, to help and support each other, both publicly and privately.
As Thanksgiving Day 2020 approaches, I cannot help but think of the hostility too many Americans feel towards one another after a contentious and divisive presidential election. I know this as truth: The anger, frustration, and anxieties felt by Americans on both the left and the right are the consequences of sin. No one is blameless. We have all sinned. If we loved each other as we ought, if we performed our duties as citizens to each other as we ought, would any right-thinking person be outraged or anxious about the White House changing parties for four short years?
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for a God who loves us and offers forgiveness for our sins. I am thankful for a God who listens to and answers prayer. I’m thankful that God rules in heaven, that all authority on earth is on loan from Him, and that He will enact justice when we will not, no matter who occupies the presidency. I am thankful for a God who taught us, when we pray, to ask for our “daily bread,” reminding us that we are to rely on Him for His provisions each day and that we ought not to worry about tomorrow. I am thankful for a country and a Constitution that protect my right to worship this God. And it’s my intention and earnest prayer that in showing my gratitude, I fulfill my duty as an American citizen and a patriot to love my neighbors, as God commands.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7