Giving Thanks and Asking for Healing
Song of Simeon and Song of Mary Nov. 26, 2014
Like any holiday, the history of Thanksgiving has many different versions. Historians cannot agree on where the first Thanksgiving occurred, or even when it occurred. However, what I find most interesting about the history of the holiday was when and how it was nationalized. There are references to various thanksgivings in the 1600’s but they are far different from what we celebrate today and they were not annual celebrations. However, on Nov. 1st of 1782, the Continental Congress issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation in which they declared the last Thursday of November to be a “solemn day of Thanksgiving to God, for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks to testify to their gratitude to God for his goodness…” If you know your American history, you will realize that this declaration comes right at the end of the American Revolution. The Americans felt that they had much to be thankful for, but they were also very aware of the challenges that faced them.
While this proclamation was presented, Thanksgiving did not become a national holiday until 1863. Abraham Lincoln declared it to be such in the midst of the civil war. In Lincoln’s speech, he asked the nation to set aside a day to thank God for the blessings he has given us, and also ask God to heal our nation. Thanksgiving was revisited once again in the midst of WWII by Franklin Roosevelt.
I find it remarkable that the national holiday of Thanksgiving was created and maintained in times of national crisis. It was in those times that our national leaders realized that we needed to thank God for what we had been given. Even after the nation had nearly been torn in two, Lincoln called on the American people to find God’s blessings in the rubble. Today, our nation is in the middle of a great deal of strife outside our borders, within our borders and even on our borders. The economy while improving has still left many without jobs and with dwindled savings-of any at all. Some might find it very difficult to be thankful this year. However, it would seem that this holiday was meant for times just like these. It was meant for times when people were having trouble seeing the blessings in life, having trouble finding God in the midst of job losses, racial turmoil, injustice and war.
If you look at both The Song of Mary and the Song of Simeon you will see a similar theme, thanksgiving in the midst of fear and grief. Mary isn’t just thanking God for what he has done for her, the blessing that he has given her, she is thanking God for the changes that Jesus will bring for her people- her people who are essentially enslaved by a foreign government. For her Jesus is an answer to a prayer, a prayer for an oppressed people…people who are beaten, battered, lonely, angry, poor, hungry…a prayer for all of us.
The second reading is only a chapter later in the Gospel of Luke, but a lot has happened in that chapter. Jesus has been born. Shepherd and angels greeted him. It was a time of joy and hope. Soon after he was born, like all Jewish boys at the time, Jesus was presented at the temple. There were two people there who immediately recognized him as more than just an infant in the arms of a peasant. They saw this child for who he really was. Simeon began his song with great joy. He could die now. His life was complete because he had seen this child, this prophesy fulfilled. But after he said all of this, he turned to Mary and said, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed- and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Hey now, where did that come from? All is well. Prophesy is fulfilled and by the way a sword will pierce you. Can you imagine how Mary felt? It has always seemed like such a bizarre way to end something that we call a song- the Song of Simeon. But he was right. It would not be an easy road for Mary. It would be a road that would end with a cross, nails, and even a sword. While it was Jesus who was pierced, we all can imagine Mary feeling that. It wasn’t just a momentary sharp pain. It was a pain that lingered because she had lost her son.
Grief and joy often come together. It’s messy and I would much prefer some plain old joy, but that is not what God has promised us. From the beginning God has promised to love us and care for us, but he never said it would be easy. He never said it would be painless. He did ask for our thanks and our songs of praise. So that is why we gather here tonight. We thank God even when we do not feel like thanking God. We thank God in a divided nation and a divided world. We thank God when we feel divided because we know that God can bring us wholeness. Abraham Lincoln asked the nation to set aside this day to ask for God to heal us. We still need that, don’t we? While the need is still here, we can be thankful that we have a God who has the power to heal if we can only find the strength to ask.
Thanksgiving Proclamation from the Continental Congress on Nov. 1, 1782. www.history.com/minisite.do?content_type=Minisite_Generic&content_type_id=875&display_order=8&mini_id=1083
President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Oct. 3, 1863.