Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving.   The word brings to mind many things to a 21st century American.   Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.   Myles Standish and Massasoit.   Family gatherings.   Football.   And of course, an abundance of food.   For me, that food always includes roast turkey, cranberry sauce, my father's cornbread and sage dressing, my mother's fruit salad, and pumpkin pie.

But the tradition of a thanksgiving meal goes back thousands of years before the Mayflower.   Back in the days of Leviticus, one of the sacrifices offered was the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving.   The thanksgiving sacrifice was a peace offering given to thank God for His grace and to restore a right relation between God and man – a relationship broken by man's sin.   According to, peace offerings were usually private offerings.   A family would present oxen, sheep or goats to be sacrificed.   The sacrifice was followed by a joyous sacrificial meal.

Today, we don't thank God by sacrificing oxen, sheep, goats, or even turkeys.   In fact, sacrifice does not seem to be a word that goes well with the traditions of an American Thanksgiving.   Sacrifice involves the destruction, surrender or loss of something as an offering to God.   Thanksgiving is not about sacrifice but indulgence – isn't it?

Even though our Thanksgiving traditions focus on celebration and even indulgence, the act of giving thanks can be a sacrifice.   Sometimes it is difficult to see and give thanks for our blessings when life seems full of uncertainty, pain, or grief.   Some of my family members, friends and acquaintances face some difficult times this holiday season.   I'm thinking of:

  • a woman spending her first Thanksgiving since her divorce
  • a boy who lost his beloved pet dog
  • a woman with breast cancer recovering from surgery
  • a woman confronting a life of pain with no relief in sight
  • a woman facing a hysterectomy and unemployment
  • siblings and parents who are estranged
  • a man struggling with drug and alcohol addictions
  • a woman striving to keep her family warm this winter.
  • a single mother fighting for child support for her daughter
  • a family who lost many possesions in a fire
  • a couple spending the holidays separated from their young son
  • spouses and parents serving in the military separated from their loved ones.

    What do we destroy, surrender, or lose in offering to God when we give thanks through difficulties?   Perhaps we destroy the idea that our present pain is significant in light of God's eternal purpose.   We surrender fear, loneliness, despair, longing, bitterness, and regret.   We lose the right to nurse our grief or grievances.   We surrender ourselves to joy and hope.

    With Thanksgiving around the corner, I am going to explore the meaning of thanksgiving over the next few days.   I hope you'll join in the journey.

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