Thanksgiving Eve, 2016
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Do any of you observe that Thanksgiving tradition where you go around the room and say one thing for which you’re thankful?
I think that’s a good tradition?
But there’s always that one child who’ll say, “I’m thankful for pumpkin pie” and the mom of that child will give one of those “Are you kidding me?” looks that encourages said child to quickly append, “…and my family” to his list of things for which he’s thankful.
The older I get, the more I realize how much I have to be thankful for. For Gloria and me both, simply being here is an amazing gift of God, for which we are indeed thankful.
But the older I get, the more I realize how ungrateful I was as a child. How much I had and didn’t even realize.
So, tonight, Thanksgiving Eve, what I’d like to remind myself of, and what I’d like to remind you of, is exactly what Moses needed to remind Israel of all those years ago.
This is what I mean:
When you observe that Thanksgiving tradition of going around the room being thankful for things, does it happen, every year, that someone is thankful for family or friends? Yes.
Does it happen, every year, that someone is thankful for good food and good meat? Yes.
God certainly has given us a great many things: body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. We should be thankful.
And of course, God has given us His Son, to bear our sin and be our Savior.
But does it happen, every year, that someone actually says the words, “I’m thankful for the forgiveness of sins in Christ my Lord, given to me by the work of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Word of God”?
My experience tells me—No.
Of all the things Christians take for granted, we take God for granted most. And so did Israel.
During the wandering in the wilderness, God provided manna to Israel. Each morning, when the dew disappeared, there was a fine, flake like frost on the ground.
This was their bread from heaven, and they were to gather up as much as they needed for that day
“Manna” means “What is it?” Israel asked what it was, and because they had no idea, they called it “What is it?”
Now, you know as well as I do that when you set food down in front of someone, and all they can muster is “Uggh, what is it?” the prospects aren’t that great.
The best response to “Uggh, what is it?” is, of course, “If you’re hungry, you’ll eat it.” Israel was hungry, so they ate it.
But to be honest, manna doesn’t sound that bad. We’re told that it tasted like wafers made with honey (cf. Exodus 16:31). And God provided it during the forty years in the wilderness, between Egypt and the Promised Land.
The people ate the manna; and ate the manna; and ate the manna. And then one day they said, “Uggh…”
Actually, they said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (Numbers 11:4-6).
Not exactly a reaction of thankfulness, right?, for the abundance God provided.
In our Old Testament lesson for Thanksgiving, we learn the reason God did this. Moses says, “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).
God was humbling Israel.
He was humbling them—to test them—to see what was in their hearts, whether they would obey Him or not.
God was using the manna not just to provide for their physical needs; He was using it to teach them that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. He was using it to teach them that life was lived by relying on God—by listening to him, by believing and trusting His word.
He did this with food, with manna. And He also did this with clothing and their physical well-being.
In the Old Testament reading tonight, Moses said, “Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years” (Deuteronomy 8:4).
God saw to it that their clothing lasted and that their feet didn’t cause them problems. On the surface, we’d love to “suffer” like that—for our food to never run out, our clothing to last, and our feet never to get sore.
So, we have to remember that there wasn’t much variety in their food.
They had no new clothes. There was one style and everybody wore it the same.
They walked, on foot, all day, every day, for forty years.
Moses said, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8:5).
The clothing you have, you have forever, if you rely on God.
The food you have, you have forever, if you rely on God.
And your feet, forever free from fungus and fatigue, if you fully rely on God.
Israel was about to enter the Promised Land.
Their situation was about to change drastically.
God had provided for Israel in ways that humbled and disciplined them. He sought to teach them that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
But everything was about to change. Moses said, “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9).
From the wilderness, they were entering a land of plenty.
That’s a great thing, don’t hear me wrong, but there’s also a danger that awaited them. Before describing that land, Moses said, “So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him” (Deuteronomy 8:6).
Israel needed to hear this, because they were entering the Promised Land, the good land.
They were trained in a time of comparative famine to thank God for all that they had so that when they sat down to a feast to list the things for which they were thankful, God would remain at the top of the list.
The verses after our Old Testament reading say this: “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14).
In the midst of plenty, there was always the danger that they’d forget God, His rescue and redemption.
Moses goes on to say, “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish” (Deuteronomy 8:18-19).
In the midst of plenty, Israel would need to remember that God was the One who’d redeemed them from slavery. He’d freed them—not because of who or what they were—but out of His unending grace.
God redeemed them, because He’d taken Abraham and his descendants into a covenant. God had promised to make Abraham into a great nation and to give the land of Palestine to Abraham’s descendants. And God is faithful to His promises.
So when we come together, as a congregation, on the eve of Thanksgiving, we need to remember that God has done the same thing for you as He did for Israel.
By His grace, God created your bodies and still provides for them. He’s redeemed you from slavery, freed you from sin and satan, from death and grave. He’s taken you into a New Covenant, written in the shed blood of Christ. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our sin upon the cross and be our Savior, our ransom, our sacrifice, the price paid for our penalty and sin.
By giving Jesus over unto death, God established a new covenant with us and all the world.
You see, we live in a fallen world, but since we don’t live in tents, wandering the wilderness, we don’t really mind.
We live in a fallen world, we sin, but since we aren’t eating just manna, day after day, wearing the same clothes, day after day, we don’t really mind.
Variety, the spice of life, has taught us to be content with the unfamiliar and to disdain what has always been.
One reason people don’t go to church is because it’s always the same.
Having a hymnal means there’s a set amount of words that we’ll sing.
Having a bible means that there’s a set amount of words that we’ll read.
Having a liturgy means that there’s a set amount of movement that’ll take place.
And that’s a bad thing, until you realize that God desires you to be content with what you have. With what He’s given to you.
The only thing a Christian should concern themselves with wearing is the righteousness of Christ, poured out upon you in Holy Baptism. That unstained garment is yours forever. Remember it daily, and do not depart from it.
The only thing a Christian should concern themselves with eating is the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ sacrifice earned forgiveness for the world, and on a weekly basis we receive it.
Unless we’re too busy. Unless that bores us.
The only thing a Christian should concern themselves with hearing is the Absolution, the words of Christ our Lord who forgives. “God’s Word applied in this very personal way is…so great and precious [a treasure that] we should be willing to run more than a hundred miles to receive it” (Martin Luther, A Brief Admonition to Confession).
Unless we’ve got other things to do.
Now, obviously, I don’t mean that we should all become monks and hide ourselves away, naked except for the righteousness of Christ, starving except for Holy Communion, and deaf except to the words of the Absolution.
We are in the world—we live and serve and work and help our families and our neighbor.
But life, abundant life, is found in the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is our bread from heaven who gives us life. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). And, again, Jesus says, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
Only when Jesus, our Lord and Christ, is the center of our life are we ready to give thanks for all the other blessings God has given.
When we see Him as our greatest blessing and rejoice in the forgiveness and salvation He provides by grace, only then do we see the other blessings for what they are—the gifts and love of God.
When we live by faith in Christ, we can go to our Thanksgiving traditions and feast and be full and rejoice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!