150 Years of Thanksgiving
‘We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.’
– Abraham Lincoln
If the sixteenth President of the United States could wax eloquent about the blessings of our country 150 years ago, what might he say today as our numbers and our wealth and our power have multiplied exponentially?
We now have a $15 trillion a year economy, which is more than twice the size of the world’s next largest economy, that of China. And with a population one-fifth that of China’s, we are effectively 10 times richer than the Chinese!
Indeed, we have indeed grown in wealth as no other nation has ever grown. We are quantum leaps beyond the next richest group of people ever to have raised a toast to life on this planet.
The matter can be put into even sharper relief: out of an estimated 108 billion people ever to have populated earth, twenty-first century Americans rank in the top three-tenths of one percent in terms of material wealth.
We form a very select group, which begs the question – Who did the selecting? And why were we – you and I – selected?
It seems many Americans believe they selected themselves. We have achieved our great national wealth by dint of our superior ingenuity and hard work. In other words, we deserve what we have.
Do we really deserve ten times more than the next wealthiest group of people alive today, and several hundred times more than 995 out of a 1,000 people who have ever lived?
Such statistics demand more sobering analysis. For example, where did we obtain our ingenuity and work ethic? How did we obtain our innovative minds and hard working bodies? Did we come by them in our own right, or by random accident? Or were they the gift . . . of a sovereign Hand?
Lincoln is convinced it is the latter, as he makes clear in the next lines of his Thanksgiving speech:
‘We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.’
In short, we have neglected the single greatest truth of humanity, that what we have we have received from God. In other words, what we have we don’t deserve. It is the gift of Grace.
Everything – our money, our nation, our families, our food, our churches, our schools, our vacations, our minds, our bodies, our cars, our very breath – is a gift from the gracious hand of God.
Acknowledging this truth is the first step to thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, Lincoln finished his speech by calling Americans, people who possess more than they deserve, to an annual observance of Thanksgiving:
‘It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do thereby invite my fellow citizens to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens’
On the 150 anniversary of this speech, one of our greatest blessings of all is the memory of a President who spoke to us in such terms, who boldly proclaimed the truth of the One to whom we owe everything.
To know such a truth is to be set free . . . free from ourselves, and free to express profound thanksgiving to God!