Blessings. November is the month to name them and count them, hold them up to the light and study them, test their weight and measure their depth, and come away more thankful, more conscious of the state of your own gratitude. I like November.
What I don’t like is the sudden rush we begin to feel, tooling around Walmart, hunting for Christmas bargains, reminded of the shortened time we have before all the gifts for everyone in the family must be purchased, wrapped and beneath the tree (which has to be decorated, mind you.) The commercials are relentless. The advertisements pasted on every available surface at every store you enter cross the line from irritating to invasive. And I find myself thinking, is the holiday season really worth all this mess? Could we just not buy stuff, have a meal together and call it even?
And I think the answer is yes. We could and maybe we should. It’s awfully fun to buy stuff and revel in a bit of retail therapy. But not if we don’t remember the gesture behind it. Why do we buy presents in the first place?
We bring gifts to each other because of three men, their honored places in their own society secure, rendering them relatively well off and able to meander about the deserts of Israel seeking more knowledge of the stars. But they got more than they bargained for one night. I wonder if the Father enjoyed the startled expressions on their faces when, in one moment they contemplated the cool breeze blowing across the desert, effectively peppering them with the smell of camels and perhaps a camp fire, and in the next moment they realized that something in their world had shifted. Something had happened they didn’t yet understand, but the evidence hung in the sky before them, solid, unmoving, beckoning them forward. And forward they went, seeking more than the star. And when they arrived at the feet of Jesus, kicking his blankets and cooing, they brought him gifts. Expensive gifts. Gifts fit for the King he is. They honored him with sacrifice and respect, revering him in awe and celebration.
Is that what we do?
Are we celebrating in the midst of the last-minute wrapping frenzy, the ten-o’clock-at-night trip to Walgreens because you ran out of tape and you have two more stinking presents to wrap before morning, or the too warm kitchen complete with cookies and breads and cakes from one end to the other and you’re still elbow-deep in mess with nearly every dish you own dirty and piled in the sink and no one able to load the dishwasher for you, or the fifteen minutes of grit-your-teeth-so-you-don’t-scream, trying to stuff all the children in coats, scarves, hats and gloves because you’re already late and the car is running and you still have to sort the gifts between what goes now and what goes later? It’s enough to make you think it’s really not worth the stress.
Except for the blessings.
The moment when she reaches out a small index finger and touches the light on the tree just to see her finger glow like E.T. The moment when he sticks his tongue out as far as it will go to catch a snowflake and he looks at you with two caught in his eyelashes, and he smiles. The moment when everything is quiet and the peace descends, settling around you like a blanket, filling you with the certainty that the King you’re celebrating and singing carols about is with you because he is Immanuel, God With Us, and he loves you. You’re his. You’re his beloved. You are his blessing.
And you are their blessing, too. The one who stays up late to take care of the work of celebrating. The one who gets up early to attend to the details of a feast fit for a royal family. The one who loves much, sacrifices much, and rests little during the holidays. You are a blessing.
But don’t forget the receiving part as well. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 2:15)
You can do it. You can be at peace. It’s part of the blessing. It’s part of the gift. And sometimes, it’s an intentional choice. It’s taking a few deep breaths to calm down while you’re still sorting through the gifts and stuffing kids into coats. It’s turning the music up louder while you bake and clean so you can sing louder and dance your way around the kitchen. It’s down-sizing that long list of things to buy and not being bullied by the companies who spent entirely too much on advertisements this year, vying for your attention and money. Let them choke on their greed. You remember three men, three gifts, and one small King, who celebrated quietly with love and reverence.
Your choice for peace and thankfulness can be the biggest blessing, especially in the difficult moments.
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
In a war zone, we can choose to be thankful. In our poverty, our sickness, our grief, we can lift up our eyes and choose to praise and not curse, to thank and not withhold our love. It is our American tradition to do so. It is the legacy handed down to us, modern day citizens, by men and women who knew the cost of freedom, weighed it against their loved ones’ graves, and came away thankful. They were thankful not for what they loss, but what they gained. They blessed each other and the God they trusted not because their circumstances had changed, but because their vision of what was possible was larger than what they faced.
What is possible for you? What is the dream you could dare to chase after, believing in the blessing of the possible even when nothing you face has yet changed?
Count the blessings. Acknowledge them. Hold them up to the light of your thoughts one by one, saying their names and submerging yourself in the intimacy of their close circle around you. Allow yourself time to sink into the depth of true, heartfelt thankfulness. Know their peace and the Source of that peace. The blessings are yours because He is yours.
And have a happy Thanksgiving.