The Pastor's Windshield for Thanksgiving 2023
Here come the holidays! As Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and the New Year approach, I know that there are many preparations, purchases, and plans on people’s minds. With so much to think about, it’s easy to miss the purpose of Thanksgiving (giving thanks to God!), much less the meaning of Christmas (the wonder of Christ’s incarnation!).
Each November we may hear or say little things like “Count your blessings” – and the Thanksgiving holiday certainly is one good occasion to recognize God’s gifts, but isn’t every day a time to give thanks and be mindful of our Lord’s blessings?
Perhaps you’re familiar with Martin Luther’s morning and evening prayers. They offer us simple ways of entrusting both our days and nights into God’s gracious care. The prayers both begin by saying, “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son …” Simply incorporating prayers like these into our morning and evening routines can be a starting place in practicing Christ-centered thanksgiving each day.
A particular Scripture passage which I associate with thanksgiving is Psalm 116. (You might recognize some of its words from the Offertory song in one of our orders of worship, Divine Service Setting One.) The Psalmist asks, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” (Ps. 116:12) In other words, “What does God want from me?” God has given you and me so much – our physical lives and everything to support them, new life in Christ Jesus, the Gospel, the Sacraments, the blessings of our church and loved ones and neighbors, and far, far more. Taking all those benefits into account, what does God want from me? What do I owe Him?
Here, we might tend toward Law-focused answers: “He wants me to be a good Christian.” “He wants me to be a better person.” “He wants me to be more loving.” While God does want us to grow in faith and love, the Psalm offer a different response.
After asking what he should give the Lord in return for all His benefits, the Psalmist then answers, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:13). Notice that this response is rooted in the Gospel! What shall I render to the Lord? I will take His gift, lift it up, and receive it!
What God wants from you and me – more than anything – is simply for us to trust and receive and celebrate His salvation!
“The cup of salvation” for the Old Testament believers was an element of the Passover meal which celebrated God’s salvation from their enslavement in Egypt. The salvation which Christ won for us came by means of His drinking the “cup” of God’s suffering and wrath in our place (Matt. 26:39). Now, your Savior provides “the cup of salvation” for you at His altar. As you take and drink the body and blood of Jesus, you get to lift up His cup of salvation and gratefully receive Christ’s gifts for your forgiveness and assurance.
The Psalmist also goes on to say, “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 116:17-19)
What does God want from me? According the Psalm, the “sacrifice” He seeks is thanksgiving. Yes, we also make sacrifices out of the time and resources the Lord has given us, but first, He would have us give thanks, remembering that every good thing comes from above. And what about paying our “vows”? Martin Luther reminds us, “We can return nothing to God except the vows of praise and confession, for we have all things from Him and he needs nothing of our goods.”
We “call on the name of the Lord” when we pray to and praise Him, both individually and “in the presence of all His people.” As Christians, we gather in our local congregations on the Lord’s Day and unite our voices in prayer and thanksgiving, just as the Old Testament people of God gathered in the Jerusalem temple and in their local synagogues. But we also call on Him in our homes, at our Thanksgiving dinners, and every day and night!
Gratefully receiving God’s gifts of salvation and responding to Him in prayer and thanksgiving – these are the things that He most wants from us.
As we journey through the coming holidays, may the Lord help us to not overlook simple “sacrifices of thanksgiving” for His forgiveness, life, and salvation and for all His benefits to you and me!
Grace & Peace,
Pastor Kory Janneke