In the United States, Thanksgiving is a national holiday. The tradition had its start in the early years of our people's history when settlers gave God thanks for a good harvest. The purpose of Thanksgiving is in its name, to give thanks to God.
Yet, in our increasingly secular society, many Americans do not keep it in the spirit of its name. Atheists and agnostics often observe the day as simply a day to have a big dinner with family or friends, watch football, and enjoy a day off from work. Even among those who believe in God, the actual giving of thanks often takes a backseat to other activities. Thanksgiving is also used by many to mark the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, almost as if Christmas shopping is a game or race and the day after Thanksgiving is like the firing of the starting gun - a signal to begin - "on your mark, get set, go."
Some people even call Thanksgiving, "Turkey Day", as if eating turkey is the main purpose of the day. Maybe they can't stomach calling it "Thanksgiving" when they don't feel thankful to God for anything. Maybe some are embarrassed by the name of the holiday, as if they don't want people to get the idea that they take giving thanks to God seriously.
If you watch TV, notice how often in the programming, announcements, news, and commercials the words "holiday" or "Thanksgiving" are mentioned. Then notice how often anyone actually gives thanks to God on TV for the many blessings He gives us. Very little, except in religious programming.
God does not command Thanksgiving as a day of observance. It is a national holiday, invented by men. In the United States, it may be compared to Mothers Day or Fathers Day. These days are not wrong because they do not come from false, pagan religious traditions. God does not forbid men from observing national days as long as the purpose of the day is not wrong and as long as the observance does not borrow from or mimic false religious customs and traditions. The Jews made a certain day an annual day of observation in the book of Esther as a memorial of their deliverance from destruction (Esther 9:18-32). God neither commands nor forbids such days.
For the Church of God therefore, the observance of Thanksgiving Day is optional. You aren't sinning if you keep it and you aren't sinning if you don't.
But if we want to observe Thanksgiving, we should observe it differently than many in the world observe it. We should really focus on giving thanks to God more than we focus on football, food, and recreation.
We should certainly give God thanks every day, just as we should honor our fathers and mothers all through the year, not just on Fathers Day and Mothers Day. But can make Thanksgiving Day a special day for giving thanks to God if we wish.
Some of us are blessed more than others. If you are blessed in this life, there may be many things to give God thanks for. If you have family, you can thank God for your family - not everyone has family. If you have a job or steady income, you can give God thanks for that - not everyone has a steady income. If you are in good health, you can give thanks for that. If there is a Church of God congregation you are able to attend, give thanks for that. And if you do not have these blessings, you can thank God for giving these blessings to many members of the Church of God, for we are to love our neighbors as ourselves and rejoice in the happiness of others in the Church. "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually" (1 Corinthians 12:26-27).
Most of all, give thanks that God has given you the opportunity to know His truth and enter His kingdom.
God teaches the giving of thanks to Him in the Bible. "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men" (1 Timothy 2:1). "Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name" (Psalm 30:4). "Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples!" (Psalm 105:1). David appointed men to give thanks to God on a regular basis (1 Chronicles 16:4-36). Many of the Psalms are expressions of praise and thanksgiving towards God (Psalm 136).
God promises to hear our prayers in time of trouble if we make the giving of thanks to Him our way of life and if we pay our vows to Him. "Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me" (Psalm 50:14-15).
I have many things to thank God for. Here are some of them.
I thank God, as Mr. Armstrong did, for God's goodness, that the greatest power in the universe, God Himself, is a power for good and not evil. God's nature is infinite righteousness, love, and truth, and I thank Him for that.
I thank God for creating mankind, all of us, giving us life out of nothingness.
I thank God for creating this awesome universe of such immense size, complexity, and beauty, including the earth itself and all the plants and animals in it. I thank Him for creating in the human mind the ability to enjoy all the beauty and good things in the earth.
I thank God for His wonderful plan and purpose for mankind's salvation. Not only does God save us in the Church, but He has provided a way, in the general resurrection of mankind and the white throne judgment period, for everyone to have a chance for salvation. And what is that salvation that God offers us? Nothing less than entry into His divine family as His very sons and daughters, sharing in His joy, glory, and power forever, ruling the universe with Christ. How could God give us more?
I thank God and Christ for their love towards me personally and all mankind, expressed in the willingness of God to give us Jesus Christ as our sin bearer, savior, teacher, head, and high priest so we can be saved, and expressed in the willingness of Christ to die a torturous death for us. Again, how could God give us more?
I thank God for His word, the Bible, for the Church and God's true ministry, and for opening my mind and the minds of all of us to understand the truth and for calling us to salvation in this life so we can be God's firstfruits in the first resurrection.
And I thank God for working with me personally, correcting me, testing me, and teaching me, even with trials that cause me mental and physical pain, because I am determined to trust that God has a good reason, motivated by love, for the trials and sufferings He puts me through.