The turkey juices sizzle in the oven. The mashed potatoes are being stirred in the pot. Gooey, delicious sweet potato casseroles melt in the oven, while pumpkin pies baked and cooled, sit, tempting us toward an early desert.
Like any other holiday, Thanksgiving has a large store of such images attached to it. And, like other holidays, it is generally considered a time for us to reflect on the important things in life. As such, it is a time when families gather together in fellowship and in celebration of their blessings.
The social and emotional benefits of Thanksgiving -- or at least the possibility of these benefits -- are pretty clear. Its benefits to the palate (if not always the digestive system) are also well known. But what about spiritual benefits? What are the religious leaders in our area telling their congregations about the Thanksgiving holiday, and what it means to their lives? Moreover, how do they deliver a message that can be repeated each year and yet continue to be relevant?
The following comments come from four Batavia pastors, each reflecting on what they perceive to be the relevance of Thanksgiving to the Christian life:
Pastor Allen Werk, St. Paul Lutheran Church and School:
"Thanksgiving is far more than just a day for a family banquet. It is not about how much food we can prepare and eat.
"Thanksgiving is about expressing our gratitude to the source of all the things in life that we enjoy. It is a reminder to say thank you to the giver of all the wonderful gifts we so often take for granted.
"The Giver of all those good gifts in our lives, the Source of our blessings, is God our heavenly Father. Thanksgiving is a holiday that reminds us to thank our God for everything He does for us.
"'Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.' James 1:17 (NIV)
"While it is good to take time to thank God for food and jobs and family and health, we also need to remember that God’s greatest gift was sending His Son Jesus to pay for our sins. Without Jesus’ death on the cross, we would be entirely cut off from this mighty and holy God. That salvation that Jesus has won for us is a gift that we would never be able to manufacture for ourselves. That is at the top of our list of blessings for which to say 'thank you' to God.
"God’s blessings to us span 365 days a year. We shouldn’t limit our thanks to one day a year. Remember to thank God often, daily, for all His love and blessings He abundantly pours into our lives."
Pastor Donald A. Shirk, Grace Baptist Church:
"What we as a congregation do at Thanksgiving is on the Tuesday evening (last night) before it, we have a special "Count Your Blessings" service. This evening is dedicated to folks sharing personal testimonies on how God has been good to them throughout the year.
"For the believer in Christ, Thanksgiving is not simply an annual event but a way of life. Paul put it this way in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, 'In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.' To help prompt, I use a PowerPoint slide with ideas that might help our church members in their sharing. Last night was an exceptional service with our people sharing for over an hour on the goodness of God in their lives."
Pastor Roula Alkhouri, First Presbyterian Church:
"Thanksgiving is a great opportunity for us to take the time to remember the bounty of God's Earth. Often times, we take it for granted that our climate is going to be okay and that we will have good conditions to grow food. So, this time is a time of reconnecting with and paying attention to God's creation. We are often negligent of other creatures in the world. We tend to focus on our individual needs for consumption. Thanksgiving is a great time to be mindful of our responsibility to care for the Earth. The gift of life is so precious, yet it is often taken for granted."
Pastor John Hatch, United Pentecostal Church:
"Usually we focus on what we all are thankful for in a special Thanksgiving Eve service through volunteer testimonies (under 5 minutes) by anyone in the congregation who desires to share and give thanks to God for various personal things they feel the Lord has done for them. This year we will also be focusing on Thanksgiving by celebrating communion to thank Jesus for all He has done for us by the price He paid on the cross for our sins; healing by the stripes on His back and the wonderful way He has forgiven us, saved us and worked in our lives."