Last Thursday was Thanksgiving in the USA, an occasion on which, quipped Erma Bombeck, everyone is thankful because no-one diets! The following day marks the pinnacle of retail shopping in the USA, when consumers spend more dollars in shops than on any other day, as they commence a Christmas spree which the average American will not pay off until mid-summer, according to author and researcher Leonard Sweet. It seems that two predominating characteristics of Thanksgiving are gluttony and self-indulgence.
But before we are too hard on our American cousins, we need to recognise that many Australians also indulge in “retail therapy”, either as a response to a crisis in which they find themselves, or as a way of celebrating achievements. It seems the only ones we can find to whom we can express our thanksgiving are ourselves, and yet indications are that it leaves the majority feeling empty. Or is it that people generally do not know how to respond to the invisible “Other” we know as God?
In the ancient Christian and Hebrew calendar there were many occasions set aside for responding with thanksgiving to God’s gifts and grace. Whether it be through harvest festivals, the feasts of Passover or of Booths, the people of God had built into their lives a time for giving thanks to God for the various aspects of sustenance which come to us. The need within us to make such a response is still evident.
There is an obvious way to build this into the celebrations which are already part of our culture: birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and Easter are regular occasions for gift exchange in which we might remember God, and give a gift of grace in thanks to someone from whom we can expect nothing in return. To purchase a water well for a community in India might be a wonderful expression of thanks to God for His generosity towards us, as might be the funding of a cow for a community in Africa. TEAR Fund’s Really Useful Gift Catalogue details many such outstanding ‘Thanksgiving gifts’.
The Advent story reminds us of God’s gracious gift to us in so many ways – nothing we earned or deserved. It was simply an expression of His love. Can we find ways to emulate that in this season?
November 30, 2003