Eve of the National Day of Thanksgiving
November 24, 2021
Text: Deut. 8:1-10
“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness” (Deut. 8:2; ESV). Do you want to know the secret of happiness, even in the midst of challenges and heartaches? It is thanksgiving. It is gratefulness. It is recognizing that the blessings you enjoy don’t just appear by accident. And it is most especially recognizing that you are not entitled to such blessings. You don’t have a right to them because you are an American, or a Missouri Synod Lutheran, or because you earned them. They are gift. They are grace. To say thank you to another person is to recognize that they have given you a gift, done you a kindness, blessed you, graced you. Tonight we recognize something even more profound, and that is that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). That is, every good thing is a gift from God. And tonight, and tomorrow, we give thanks chiefly to Him. If you think you’re entitled to the blessings you enjoy, that is, if you are ungrateful, you will be miserable, because you’ll never have everything you think you’re entitled to, and you’ll suffer many things you think you don’t deserve. But if you recognize that all good is gift from God, given for your good, for your use and enjoyment, because He loves you, and that for Christ’s sake, you’ll rejoice in the Lord, always, and greatly, no matter your present circumstances. Because in all your anxieties, in all that is not good, you’ll simply make your requests known to God in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving. And you know He’ll take care of you. And so the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).
Happiness flows from gratefulness. And the key to gratefulness is remembering. Thus in our Old Testament reading, God commands His people through Moses to remember. “Remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness.” Now, why would He have them do that? He tells us. It is first of all to humble them (Deut. 8:2). That is, “Remember how, in the wilderness, things weren’t easy? Remember how you were hungry? How the wilderness itself was inhospitable? How you constantly lost heart and kept turning back toward Egypt, as though slavery there, to that tyranny, was better than faith in the LORD who redeemed you and brought you out?” “I put you to the test,” the LORD is saying, “to see if you would keep my commandments, my faith. And you failed miserably, as I knew you would. But you didn’t know that. And you needed to know that. You needed to know that you couldn’t possibly make it on your own. That you could not provide for yourselves. That you were destitute.” Here we see the purpose human suffering. God is no masochist. He doesn’t enjoy inflicting suffering. He is disciplining those He loves. So the Israelites were humbled by their circumstances. But what happened? The LORD provided. When He brought the people to the end of themselves, to utter despair of all else, the LORD acted. He saved. Manna in the wilderness. Water from the rock. Quail descending on the camp. Their clothing did not wear out. Their foot did not swell. Because He promised. He promised to bring them through, and into His own Land full of all good things. This is what He said He would do. They had to learn to trust, not themselves, and not their outward circumstances, but the Promise. See, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (v. 3). They were to remember all their trials and tribulations, and they were to remember how the LORD provided for them and cared for them the whole way, through all the years, through all the suffering, and how He saved them, in order that they believe in Him, trust Him, and rejoice in the LORD always, I will say it again, rejoice. And they were to remember and believe the Promise that so He will always do for His people.
Now, here we are in the midst of some hard times in our nation, and in the world, and perhaps even in our own families and our own lives. To us, too, this night, the LORD gives us the Commandment: Remember. Remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you all your years. Yes, you’ve had trials and tribulations. Yes, you’ve suffered. Yes, you have your issues right this very moment. By the way, how have you done keeping God’s commandments in the midst of hard things? Did you face them all with unshakeable faith that your LORD would deliver, no matter what? Or did you waver? Did you doubt? Did you, from time to time, turn your head and look back longingly toward the flesh pots of Egypt? Did you think it might be easier, and more pleasant, to find your salvation in other places, by means of other things, other people, other gods? Did you? Do you?
Repent. Be humbled. That is the first purpose of the remembering. To know that you can’t possibly make it on your own. And that no one and nothing else can save you. It is to be brought to the end of yourself, to utter despair of all that is not God. But what does the LORD do for you, in spite of your failing the test, in spite of all your sin and doubt? What has He done in the past? Do you remember? Here you are, alive, fed and clothed. You came here in a motor vehicle, for crying out loud. From a place where you are given to keep warm and sheltered from the elements, where you undoubtedly have a bed, and a toothbrush, and an easy chair, and indoor plumbing. So far you haven’t died from any of your illnesses or injuries or stupid mistakes. You are surrounded by people who love you. Family. Friends. Or even if you’re feeling particularly lonely in those areas this time of year (and it is true, the holidays really bring out the loneliness for many people), look around you right now. You are surrounded by the Family of God, brothers and sisters in Christ who love you, who are overjoyed that you are here, and a heavenly Father who loves you, who delights to call you His own child, who sets a place for you right here at His Table. Remember all that. And so remembering, see that you do not live by bread alone, or by money, or pleasure, or power, or pride, by your own resources, or by any outward circumstance… but by the very Promises of God fulfilled in Christ for your salvation, spoken to you here, in His Word, and delivered up here, at His Supper.
And speaking of His Table, what is this but the Great Thanksgiving Feast… the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving)? And what does the Lord Jesus, our gracious Host at this Meal, bid us do, but remember? “This do in remembrance of Me.” “Remember what I’ve done for you. Remember my Body, given into death on the cross for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins. Remember my precious Blood, shed for you, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Remember my burial in your own tomb, and my victorious, bodily resurrection from the dead, all for you. Remember, and in so remembering, receive. My true Body. My true Blood. Under the bread and wine. Given for you, my dear Christians, to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of sins.” In the biblical sense, remembering is more than simply calling to mind, although it certainly includes that. It is participation. It is reception. We remember by grasping what the Lord here gives us. And there is no greater praise and thanksgiving than to receive these gifts from Him in faith.
Remember that He has delivered us. He has brought us out from our slavery to sin, death, and the devil. He is with us in the wilderness of this world, feeding us, giving us to drink, preserving, sustaining, strengthening, and protecting us. Yes, He humbles us. This, too, is for our good. It drives us to rely upon Him alone, and not upon ourselves, or any other god. When we remember what He’s done for us in the past, and up until this very moment, we can have no doubt. He will bring us all way. Into His Land, filled with all good things. Into heaven. Into resurrection and the New Creation. Fountains and springs flowing out in valleys and hills. Wheat and barley. Vines and fig trees and pomegranates, olive trees and honey. Bread without scarcity. No lack. You shall eat and be full. And what is the result? “(Y)ou shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you” (v. 10). Because you’ll recognize, then, without fail, that this is all from God, not because you are entitled to it, not because you’ve earned it, but flowing from His undeserved goodness and love toward you on account of Christ. That will overflow in gratefulness. Thanksgiving. You’ll remember what you were, and what God has made you now to be, what He has done for you only out of Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you. And you’ll rejoice, and that rejoicing will be your eternal happiness.
And on that Day, as on this one, what will we do, how will we engage in our thanksgiving and praise? Well, by feasting, of course. So come to the Table to eat and drink. This do in remembrance of Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.