Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Once again the holiday season draws close and people say, “Where did the year go?” The stores are filled with Christmas decorations, children wonder what they will find under the Christmas tree, while Mom and Dad wonder how they will pay for the gifts. Thanksgiving has become a pre-season holiday, a preparation for a secular Christmas celebration.
Think of this, however, thanksgiving distinguishes Christianity. To receive a gift and saying, “Thank you,” is an ennobling gesture. There is nothing small or trivial about this act. Offering “Thanks” acknowledges we received a gift unearned nor undeserved. Let us remember the saying: “Happy is the individual who understands life is the ultimate gift of God.” We recall St. Paul also wrote, “In everything give thanks.” (I Thessalonians 5:18).
This evening Psalm 131; one of the Pilgrim Psalms sung by Hebrew pilgrims making their way up the mountains to the city of Jerusalem for one of the annual festivals. You may not have read Psalm 131 before. With only three verses, you might overlook this psalm or think it unimportant. But that would be a mistake; this little hymn by David is really a treasure. Charles Spurgeon said that this Psalm is “one of the shortest to read, but one of the longest to learn.”
Psalm 131 has three verses; each one reveals an important behavior quality for consideration, as we approach Thanksgiving season.
The Psalm begins with these words, “My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty.” Most of us would never begin a prayer this way. It sounds odd to our ears, as if perhaps David bragged about his humility.
It’s always tricky to talk about humility. How do you know when we are truly humble? Come to think of it, if you are truly humble, will you even know it? It has been well said that humility is the virtue which, when you think you have it, you’ve lost it.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. We live in a culture that places little value on humility. No one gives out merit badges for humility. From the moment we enter the world, we are urged to get ahead, climb the ladder, look out for number one, to win through intimidation, and prove our success by the car we drive, the home we buy, the clothes we wear, and the friends we keep. This outlook is reflected in t-shirts which read, “The One Who Dies With the Most Toys Wins.”
Humility suggests we understand our limits. That is difficult for some people—the idea we have limits. It’s sort of a trendy. New Age advocates like to speak about unlimited potential and the untapped resources within ourselves. The truth is our potential is limited and the only untapped resources are the ones we discover when we reach the end of our abilities and admit our limitations.
The second verse of this psalm believes a second quality to be very useful, as we approach Thanksgiving. It is the quality of simplicity. The verse reads, “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” This image only a mother may fully understand. A child is born and for a long time looks to his or her mother as the source of his nourishment and life.
But one day a child must learn to take a bottle. That may not be a happy day. The child cries; big tears roll down his face, his arms reach out, but his mother gently pushes them away. He fights, he pouts, he screams, all to no avail. What happened to Mom? She who once was a friend now become a foe. And if Mom has a heart at all, she cries too because from now on things will be different. She feeds him by hand or bottle, but the relationship changes.
Here is the truth: Unless a mother weans her child, he will not grow up. He’ll remain dependent. The lesson may seem hard, and the child may misunderstand, but if a mother truly loves her child, she will teach her child to become independent. When the task is complete, the child no longer seeks what it once found indispensable. Once he could not live without his mother’s milk; now he must provide for himself. It is a simple, but powerful lesson in life.
A third principle ought to be included with humility and simplicity, the principle of integrity. Verse 3 says, “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” The word “hope” in Hebrew means first to wait, but then to wait expectantly. The concept is close to our English word “confidence.” An expanded definition would be “to wait on something with the expectation that the person we are wait for is trustworthy.”
That’s what integrity is all about. We place our confidence in God alone. We believe God answers questions we barely understand. We come to the realization we don’t measure our spirituality by our prosperity. We find rest in our soul because we discover things we crave aren’t so important anymore.
Humility, simplicity, integrity are the three essential qualities, leading to a spirit of thanksgiving. We find those qualities well expressed in this memorable prayer written for Franklin Roosevelt to mark thanksgiving in 1940 when our nation was on the verge of war.
“Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindred and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail.” Amen
May our lives be marked with humility, simplicity, and integrity. May these qualities lead to a spirit of thankfulness not only for material things, but also for our family, our friends our nation and those qualities which enrich our daily lives. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.