Each year in America we celebrate the holiday Thanksgiving Day. This year is my 55th Thanksgiving and I’ve seen a lot of different versions of the celebrating. One year I prematurely over-celebrated the night before Thanksgiving and missed out on the whole meal. When I was a child, our family traveled to my great-uncle’s house one year and ate rabbit and raccoon. As you might guess… both taste a lot like chicken. The more traditional celebration of Thanksgiving includes an over-indulgence of eating (and sometimes drinking), lounging around in front of a TV, catching up with relatives and friends. I would say it also involves a lot of relaxing but it seems the women folk rarely get to relax on any holiday. But I digress.
My family is scattered across America, from one coast to the other, and I reside in the middle of the country. It has been a long time since we all gathered together for Thanksgiving. We used to enjoy the typical southern-America version of a Thanksgiving meal followed by too much dessert. Mom’s pecan pies are a distant but favorite memory. As adults, my brother and I once reenacted an old childhood Thanksgiving drama involving who had the most the cherries on their cherry cheesecake. As adults we found it humorous; I’m sure it was far less humorous for my Mom. But I digress.
Maybe it’s just me getting older but it seems we Americans express entitlement more than gratitude now. Kind of like the Great Cherry Cheesecake Incident but on a larger scale. These days, the company I keep on Thanksgiving is a grateful bunch. They have a common and well-placed appreciation for the things God has given. We are, generally speaking, a population with an overabundance of everything but time. But I digress.
I would like to think the description and explanation I received in 1960’s elementary school were accurate: the early settlers in this country held Thanksgiving celebration for expressing gratitude for God’s gifts, and celebrating the bounty He provided. And they invited others (American Indians, I’m told) to join them. I don’t personally know any American Indians and I’m not sure whether they would appreciate an invitation to my Thanksgiving. I have been invited (via TV commercial) to spend Thanksgiving with them at a nearby casino. Somehow spending the holiday in a casino doesn’t seem like giving thanks. But I digress.
Getting to the point: In the 60’s I heard “God is love”. It was a mysterious thing for a young boy to hear. I was not old enough to understand the meanings behind the phrase. I have come to understand that God actually is LOVE Himself. Without God, there is no love. I can love only because He loved me first. Love, for me, is my reaction to being loved by God. My capacity to love originates with God, not within my own self.
God has been very generous to America. We have long considered our country to be a Christian one, with Christian values. As the years roll by, that becomes more challenging to see. The God I’ve come to know is not only a generous one but a loving God as well. Yet, like love, I can be generous only because God has been generous toward me.
The Hebrew word for “love” is “Ahava”. I am borrowing the following information from chabad.org which contains this description:
In Hebrew the word for love is “Ahava.” Because Hebrew is a holy language, the structure of the word, down to each letter serves to define its essence. The root of Ahava is Hava, which literally means to offer or to give. It also shares a root with the word, Ahav, which means to nurture, or to devote completely to another. So the essence of the Hebrew word Ahava (love) is not an emotion, it’s an action. Love in its purest form is not something that happens to us, it is a condition that we create when we give of ourselves.
Love = Giving. In light of this explanation, the phrase “God is love” is the same as “God is giving” (or providing). The food we eat, the breath we breathe, the bodies that carry us here and there, the mental faculties to care for ourselves and each other, our creativity and nurturing, our charitable thoughts and actions, the recognition of His love for us, the realization that we need God… all are gifts from God Himself, LOVE.
The concept that love = giving makes perfect sense to me. Understanding that I am deeply loved by God – and all others being similarly created by Him are also deeply loved by Him – identifies each individual as worthy of love. Therefore each individual is worthy of giving and receiving gifts, since giving is love. In God’s creation: His love comes first, then our gratitude, then our giving.
Love. Thanks. Giving.
This Thanksgiving, in honor and remembrance of God’s love for me and others, I will express my gratitude for what God has given us, and most of all His greatest gift: Himself, in the person of Jesus.
Without Jesus, Thanksgiving Day celebration might only be a novelty, a trinket, a temporary salve for the human condition, a day’s feast, a holiday from toil, a nod toward indulgence.
With Jesus, Thanksgiving Day is an invitation to celebrate God’s great love for us, the gifts He provided out of the abundance of that love, and express deep gratitude to Him. Quite possibly I will be moved in gratitude to be loving and giving to His other children. After all, at my best I am just another ragamuffin in the glorious kingdom of Father God.