David, the future king of Israel, learned a lot about God and humans as he stayed with his sheep each day and night. When the time came to confront the mighty and fearsome Goliath, he was not afraid because he had learned to defend his sheep from the attacks of bears and lions. He had already been tested and because he was victorious against these cruel animals, he was fearless and trusted God against the mighty Goliath who sought to destroy the chosen people of God.
David also gained a great appreciation of the universe during his time with his flocks. He began the 19th Psalm with these words: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” In a different psalm he combines reflection about nature and human beings: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:3-5) The author of Hebrews picks up on this verse and repeats this concept when he starts talking about the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. As He becomes incarnate, He becomes one of us. The word glory (doxa in the Greek, from which we get doxology) is being applied to both humans and Jesus Christ. The Church Fathers often wrote about the fact that humans are the capstone of God’s creation, the apex, the glory, the masterpiece.
However, the Bible also talks about our weakness, our fragility, and our ephemeral entities. David, who told us that as human beings we are glorious, also wrote these words in Psalm 103:15: “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower in the field: the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” Peter echoed this idea from the Psalms and the book of Isaiah when he wrote, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25) James wrote against our aggrandizement and the belief that we are masters over our lives and futures. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15)
What were you thinking about on January 1, 2020? You may have had grand plans of getting married, traveling, or acquiring possessions in the new year. The economy was doing quite well, and most people thought that it would propel President Trump to a second term in the White House. Then this imported, invisible item known as a coronavirus traveled to Europe and then to all the continents. We thought that we would overcome it in a couple of months but after 10 months, it is gaining new strength and putting all of us in a stay-at-home pattern. It has revealed that we cannot conquer things as quickly as we believed, because we are not as advanced as we thought we were. This tiny virus has humbled the proud, impoverished many families, and shaken the foundations of the world.
During this Thanksgiving week, how do we think as people of faith, how do we think as citizens of this country, and how do we think as residents of the global village? One philosopher said that when you do not know where to go, it is good to return to the place where you began. In this country we talk a lot about the Mayflower and the meal that was shared by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, but the Mayflower Compact is almost unknown. This document was signed 400 years ago by 41 men on November 11, 1620 (the date is from the Old Style calendar because the Gregorian calendar was not adopted for another hundred years; it is November 21 according to our calendars today). The Mayflower Compact stated that their voyage was taken for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith, and that they signed the compact in the presence of God and one another.
There is a commonality between the Israelites, considered one of the weakest nations in the Middle East, and the Pilgrims, who left England to avoid persecution. Those very different groups of people held a common belief in a God who would provide for them. David wrote in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord, our God.” Out of the 102 passengers who came to a new land on the Mayflower, only 51 survived the winter of 1620-1621. Yet they never wavered in their conviction that this was the place where God wanted them to be. This was the place that God wanted them to build, so they would trust in Him and their city on the hill would become a testimony to the whole world.
This coming Thursday, on this historic Thanksgiving Day, what shall we do? Some of us will be alone, some in twos, and some in other formations. Yet all of us are under the threat of this invisible enemy called Covid-19. Is this plague coming to an end after it has taken more than 250,000 people in this country and an estimated 1.34 million globally? Will it continue for weeks or months? Are there any words of thanksgiving amidst the sorrow and uncertainty?
Extremes are dangerous all the time, and they are dangerous now. There are people who still do not take this situation seriously, after close to one year. On the other hand, there are the fearmongers. The people who do not take it seriously can be affected by it and in their belligerence, they can affect others. Then the fearmongers talk as though people have never died from diseases before, and we as a society shall collapse any moment unless we do what they prescribe. It is interesting that the same people in government who talk about the good people of America suddenly declare them incompetent if they do not do what they are told!
As we reflect on this year at our Thanksgiving tables, we shall remember how God’s people fared in similar situations. Hear what the Lord said to Israel through his prophet Isaiah: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” (Isaiah 30:15) We shall repent of what we have done as individuals and nations and we shall rest in the salvation of the Lord. We shall have our moments of silence, reflecting on our glory as the children of God and on our weakness as the grass of the fields.
However, this is still a day of thanksgiving. We shall do as the Israelites did when they came to dedicate the Second Temple. “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” (Nehemiah 8:10) Apostle Peter was familiar with this joy when he wrote to all of the Christians dispersed throughout the world: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” (1 Peter 1:8) That is my prayer for us and for you at this Thanksgiving holiday: May you experience this inexpressible and glorious joy because you are a son or a daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who promised that he will never leave or forsake you, but will walk with us every moment of our lives until he comes again.