Perhaps we should be more specific. Or absolutely not. I’m not sure.
As a holiday, Thanksgiving is a harvest based festival celebrated in Canada, the US and some countries and territories influenced by their North American connection. There are similar harvest based festivals in the UK, Japan and Germany. Although, let’s face it, in Germany, Erntedankefest is probably not as well known, internationally, as Oktoberfest.
But more recently, we’ve broadened the scope of Thanksgiving to include all the things for which we’re thankful. And I don’t argue against that, it’s just that I hope, first of all, that being thankful for harvest is at least a season (like harvest is), not just a one-day-and-we’re-done-with-it kind of event. We should take a moment to be thankful for all the earth provides and the hard working people who bring it to our tables. And second, that being thankful for anything else isn’t like that, either. Just because there’s one day called Thanksgiving shouldn’t mean we’re not thankful every day, anymore than celebrating the day of our birth means we’re not happy to be alive every other day. The best thanks is lived out, anyway, and we can do that every day.
So please take a moment or two to think about all the things you’re thankful for. I bet there’s lots. And you could think of more, if you tried. The thing is, we often don’t, but we also shouldn’t have to try so hard. Not because our lives are perfect, full and idyllic, but because we so easily let the imperfections of our lives overwhelm the good things. And even then, we can so easily lose our sense of what we should be thankful for in comparing what we have to others. More and better seem to be how we measure, rather than need and enough.
That’s tricky, because what we’re thankful for is closely tied to our relationships with other people and with the world around us. It can become all too easy to say “I’ve prospered all by myself and I, alone, made everything I have.” But that’s simply not true. We need creation to feed our bodies and each other to feed our hearts and minds. Creation can nourish our minds, too, and inspire us. The point is, it’s never just “me” or “you” when it comes to thanksgiving, it’s “us.”
And that’s where I say, “thank you, God.” Use what language you like, but thank God, that love, that spirit, that connectedness, that energy, that higher power, that thing that lives in us and binds us with each other and creation.
I think that’s what Moses was really saying to the Israelites before they crossed over from the wilderness into “the promised land.” We’ll hear some of the book of Deuteronomy in our church on Thanksgiving, and in it, Moses tells the people there will be much to be thankful for in the new land. But remember, first, where you came from. There was a point to that time in the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt. It was a time struggling and learning to be a free people, learning how to live well together, to respect each other and the world, learning what’s really important about life. More and better stuff doesn’t make you “more,” or “better.” Be sure to live as thankfully with each other in prosperity as in the wilderness.
And remember you didn’t get here alone, says Moses, you did it together with God. Freed, nourished, taught wisdom, grace and love. Not always perfect, but lives filled with things to be thankful for, in the wilderness and in the promised land. Thank you, God.