27.11.08

Thanksgiving...or Festivus?

"...there was famine in all the lands..." (Genesis 41:54)

I know all the talk about the cup being half full or half empty, depending on one's perspective. I know that we've much for which to be thankful if we'll but open our eyes and see. "There's still plenty of turkey and all", and "look at the starving children on the other side of the world". These are the things we tell ourselves this year as we gather around tables laden with feast to celebrate and express gratitude for God's provision.

But this year, more than many, is a year when "giving thanks" might feel a little strained, a little forced, as if we hope that by saying it often enough, or loud enough, we'll actually begin to feel grateful. After all, thousands have lost their homes in fires just in the past week. Before that their were floods in the south. Draped across the entire country there's been an epidemic of foreclosures so that tens of thousands who sat around their own table last year are somewhere else this year; jobless, homeless, and afraid. Let's throw in the impending implosion of the auto industry, the realization that two wars and mountains of debt will make it difficult for any incoming president to fulfill promises made in the heady days of campaign speeches, and one might begin to wonder if this might be a good to skip thanksgiving, or at least downgrade it from "turkey" and "thanksgiving" to "tofu" and "airing of grievances" - more like Festivus than anything else.

Ah, but this is precisely where we go wrong. We thank that gratitude is all about remembering the good things God has done for us and giving thanks. Surely this is a piece of gratitude and thanksgiving. But if we limit our thanksgiving to recalling the visible gifts, the stuff we wanted either materially or emotionally, we will miss most of the story, because most of the story is about how God transforms us right in the midst of challenges in this fallen world. "And there was a famine..." is what Genesis says, and only then are the wheels set in motion for God's chosen family to begin their process of profound transformation.

Up to this point, the family chosen to represent God's heart had instead been a tragic display of pride, jealousy, hatred, lust, greed, fear, deceit, self-righteousness, rape, polygamy, and murder. But when the famine came, a whole story began to unfold that would eventuate in the confessing of sins, the forgiveness of wrongs committed, the healing of a family, and the establishment of a nation from which would eventually come the Light of the World. It all began, not with a campfire moment, but with a famine. Without it, the brothers might have died in the tragic prisons of selfishness which had held them for so long.

The famine's begun for many in our own land; right here; right now. The reality is that we only come to know Jesus as the bread of life because we've known hunger. Whether we hunger for meaning, freedom, intimacy, freedom from fear, or our next meal, when we find the one who can satisfy the hunger, our gratitude becomes a natural wellspring of praise. The same thing is true again and again. We know Christ as light because we've walked in darkness; know Him as life because we've been in the realm of death; know Him as father because we've stood by the grave of our own dad. However it works for you, I hope you can see that real thanksgiving is always born out of the transformation which comes from crisis.

So perhaps this is the year when we'll give thanks, less for what's happening in this present moment (though God knows that there's still plenty of reasons for gratitude if we take even a cursory look around us), and more for what God will do as we collectively walk through these 'very interesting days', as I recently heard them described. I hope and pray that on the far side of these crises, we who claim to follow Christ will be shaped, liberated, and transformed, so that our lives will overflow with the purity, generosity and joy that is the heart of Jesus.

Happy Thanksgiving! God is at work! May you have the eyes to see His hand in this glorious, beautiful, fallen world.

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