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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
"Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving" (Psalm 95:2).
President Reagan once said:
Our nation's motto - "In God We Trust" - was not chosen lightly. It reflects a basic recognition that there is a divine authority in the universe to which this nation owes homage.
Throughout our history, Americans have put their faith in God, and no one can doubt that we have been blessed for it. The earliest settlers of this land came in search of religious freedom. Landing on a desolate shoreline, they established a spiritual foundation that has served us ever since…
While never willing to bow to a tyrant, our forefathers were always willing to get on their knees before God. When catastrophe threatened, they turned to God for deliverance. When the harvest was bountiful, their first thought was thanksgiving to God.
(Ronald Reagan, Proclamation on National Day of Prayer, March 19, 1981).
Author Stephen Sumrall tells us about the first Thanksgiving in America, back in 1621:
"Encouraging as were many of the developments among the Pilgrims, they experienced much sadness, but they suffered their way through to Thanksgiving. Brimming over with gratitude as a result of bountiful crops in the summer of 1621 - crops that produced more than enough corn to see them through their second winter [in America] - Governor Bradford declared a public day of thanksgiving, to which the Indians were invited…
Chief Massasoit was a remarkable example of God's providential care for His Pilgrims. The chief and eighty-nine other Indians joined with the Pilgrims in feasting on venison, wild Turkey, vegetables from their gardens, and pies. It was a joyous occasion for all, as they ate and then competed in games and merrymaking, and in prayer. Even though they had endured great hardship, God had been good to them and they recognized this" (Stephen Sumrall, Pulpit Helps, November 2002, p. 1).
The American Peoples Encyclopedia continues the story of Thanksgiving:
Another Thanksgiving feast was held in 1623, and thereafter it was celebrated at intervals throughout the Colonial history of New England…During the American Revolution, Congress annually appointed a day of national thanksgiving…In 1789 President [George] Washington issued the first presidential proclamation for a Thanksgiving Day to be observed on Thursday, November 26, but he did not do so again until 1795. In 1815, after the War of 1812, President Madison set aside a holiday in November. [After that] for nearly [fifty years] the custom was kept alive by proclamations of the governors of the various states.
The establishment of Thanksgiving Day as a national festival came about…through the life-long campaign of [a widow] Mrs. Sarah J. Hale...In 1863 she [urged President Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday] and won his support. On October 3, 1863, [Lincoln] issued a national Thanksgiving proclamation… ( The American Peoples Encyclopedia, Chicago: The Spencer Press, 1954).
And we've been celebrating Thanksgiving ever since!
Thanksgiving is one holiday they haven't been able to ruin. They've destroyed Christmas. The birth of Christ is completely forgotten amid the tinsel and lights and madness of "the holidays." We used to be upset that they put out a few Christmas items in the stores a day or two before Thanksgiving. But I noticed this year that some stores put out Christmas items a few days after Labor Day - in September! Yes, greed and materialism have destroyed the real meaning of Christmas. That's why you need to plan right now to be here with us on Christmas Sunday and Christmas Eve. Put Christ back into Christmas by being in church - the way it used to be - and the way it's supposed to be! Don't let the secular money-grubbers take the real meaning of Christmas away from you! And one more thing - don't you let the Christ-rejectors take the word "Christmas" away from you. Go everywhere and say "Merry Christmas" to everyone - with a cheerful smile! To every Muslim you meet, say, "Merry Christmas!" To every politically correct liberal you meet, say, "Merry Christmas!" Don't let them take the word "Christmas" away from us! And be in church on Christmas Sunday and Christmas Eve as well!
Yes, they've ruined Christmas. They've turned Halloween into a national orgy. Easter has just about been forgotten. But they can't seem to spoil good, old Thanksgiving! The last time I talked with my mother was on Thanksgiving Sunday, just before she went into a coma and died. Mother said, "This is my favorite holiday." I agree with her!
You never know how much Thanksgiving means unless you are travelling somewhere else in the world on the last Thursday of November. I found that out in 1982. My wife and I had been travelling in Italy and reached the city of Rome on Thanksgiving Day. It was a strangely sad experience for us, as Americans. There was no Thanksgiving in Rome! It was just another cold fall day. And that's the way it is in most of the world today.
Oh, I know America is far from perfect. Yet with all of our flaws and all of our national sins, America is still the home of freedom and hope in the world.
President Reagan once told this charming story. Two men were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro. And in the midst of his story one businessman turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are." And the Cuban looked at them and said, "How lucky you are! I had someplace to escape to!" In that sentence he told us the entire story. If America ever falls, there is no place to escape to. Where would you rather be today? Turkey? Iraq? Saudi Arabia? When compared to them, our old country sounds pretty good! That's why Abraham Lincoln called America "the last, best hope of man on earth." And I still believe it!
But Thanksgiving means more than patriotism. It means that we love God and serve Him!
"Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving"
That's why it's important to be in church every time the door is open. It's a cold and lonely world out there. Young people especially feel the coldness and loneliness of life without God and without the local church. But we say, on Thanksgiving and throughout the year, "Why be lonely? Come home - to church!" In the second century, Clement of Alexandria said:
The mother draws the children to herself; and we seek our mother, the church.
On Thanksgiving it is good to come home to our spiritual mother, the local church. It is good to come home to our mother every Sunday. Why be lonely? Come home - to church! And let us give thanks for our church, for our brothers and sisters in it, for the salvation of Christ proclaimed through it, for the love of God, manifest through it.
"Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving"
(END OF SERMON)
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