Starting today and in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we have the opportunity to decide to which God or gods we will offer our lives.
Our age has largely squeezed God out of its daily life. This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that it’s completely atheistic. It just means God doesn’t feel necessary.
We have constructed a view of the world that, as far as we can tell, seems to run just fine without God. That sees God as extra. Sometimes helpful in lives that are otherwise our own. The supernatural icing that is added to the natural cake.
But today we are offered an opportunity.
Because we see that even in our secular world, in the holiday we celebrate today, there lingers a residue of real religious feeling.
* of gratitude on the one hand, and
* the sacredness of the meal on the other.
So, while American culture may not be specific about who it is that it is thanking today, still it gives thanks. And, as if it can’t quite let eating be reduced a utilitarian act (though we often treat it that way), on this day we celebrate that gratitude by eating. We celebrate with a meal.
And somehow this act of eating reminds us that we have to seek life outside of ourselves. We’re not self sufficient.
These, I think, is what the holiday of Thanksgiving is about. Giving thanks (however vaguely defined the recipient of that thanks), and the sense that eating is a sacred event that reveals our connection with something outside ourselves.
And it’s good, I think, that our culture takes time out for this.
I’m not entirely convinced, however, that this holiday needs to be a Church holiday, so I have to work out what we are doing here today.
Because what our culture celebrates in a general way on this day, the Church celebrates in her life in a very specific way, out of a very particular story, which even now we are living, on our way to a particular end, every time we celebrate the Eucharist (which literally means “good thanks,” or Thanksgiving).
The Church describes us as hungry beings.
Our story starts with human beings placed in a garden surrounded by food given freely to us by God. Food given to us to draw us out of ourselves and into communion with God and with one another.
And the first sin is committed by means of food—consuming food not offered as gift and deciding for ourselves what we want as if what God gave us weren’t good enough.
The Church teaches that we are hungry beings. Hungry for food, but more, hungry for God. But the Church also teaches that we have rejected God’s gracious gift.
And when we reject God as the source of our life, we replace God with all sorts of things. Our desires still draw us out of ourselves, but instead of being drawn through things to God, we stop at the things themselves. We settle for just eating, sleeping and working and try to convince ourselves that that is life. We settle for gathering things and experiences to fill that deep hunger. And, since what we are hungry for is God, and since God is infinite, our hunger can never be completely satisfied with finite things and experiences.
We try to replace God, the Creator of heaven and earth, with these things and so these things become gods for us.
But the good news is that God did not and does not leave us there exiled outside of the garden eating food that only buys us time until we die and does not give us the abundant, eternal life that God wants to give us.
The Good news is that God came to us and found us in exile, taking on flesh and blood, walking and talking to us as one of us, touching us, healing us, crying with us and eating with us and giving us God’s own life to satisfy our deep, infinite hunger.
The Eucharist is his giving himself to us, it is his feeding us that for which we really hunger: God’s very self.
And, because God has found us and fed our infinite hunger with God’s own life, we give God thanks.
“It is right and a good and joyful thing,” we pray, “always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth…”
Celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday for the Church is not a vague thing. It is also not the general heading under which our version of Thanksgiving us just a type. It is the other way around. Thanksgiving Day is a pale version of the reality that is the Eucharist, and the Eucharistic life of the Church.
But maybe we could celebrate Thanksgiving in the Church as a bridge, as a way to connect what we do and who we are to the residue of this truth that is celebrated by the rest of the culture. Not for us to become more like the world, but to draw the world into being more like the Church.
And there, I think is, our opportunity.
Santa Claus has probably finished up his part in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade marking the official start of what the secular world calls the Christmas season.
And tomorrow will begin the orgy of consumption that the secular version of the Christmas season has become. An orgy of consumption that looks a little too much like a desperate attempt to satisfy infinite hunger with finite things—a little too much like the aftermath of Adam’s sin rather than the prayerful preparation for the coming of Christ.
Our opportunity is to begin today to discern how to live the celebration that we know in the Eucharist. How to live a life of real thanksgiving. To approach today’s feast not as the prelude to a season of spending and consumption, but instead as a day of real thanksgiving that marks the beginning of Advent—a time to prepare for Christ’s coming again in glory.
Our opportunity today is to begin to live a life centered not around the things that we have made our gods, but around the One True God, who alone satisfies our hunger, and for whom and to whom we give thanks.