+ OK. This might not some as a big surprise to some of you. I know it will definitely not come as a surprise for Pastor Mark.
But…I am a bit of a curmudgeon. Especially when it comes to the holiday season. I know. That’s sacrilege to some people.
“But, Father Jamie,” I hear people say. “It’s just a magical time of the year.”
I think magic, in this case, may be in the eye of the beholder. I’ve never been a big fan of the commercial aspects of either Thanksgiving or Christmas. And, I’m sure it’s no surprise to people here who know me: the food at this time of the year does not really appeal to me all that much, even before I became vegan.
But…before you judge me too harshly (and I’ll let you do that in this case), I think, idealistically, there are many positive things that can be mustered from this holiday season.
Tonight is an example of what we can do. I have always loved the Thanksgiving Eve service. Back in the days when we were on rotation with St. Mark’s and Elim and the Shepherd of the Valley Moravian, it was great to worship together and to ponder a bit this wonderful thing we do when we give thanks to God. Now, you’ve heard no doubt many sermons and Facebook memes and other comments about how important it is to give thanks for all the great things in our lives.
A few weeks ago, on Stewardship Sunday here at St. Stephen’s, I shared that it is, of course, a good thing to give thanks to God for all those good things. But I said, on that Sunday, that we must take a step further. Paying lip service in gratitude for the things we’ve been granted is not enough.
Essentially, we are called to actually live out our Thanksgiving. We should be a living, breathing jumble of gratitude at all times.
Tonight, though, I’m going to even take that all one step even further. I think it’s a good thing to give thanks for all those things we’ve asked for a received. And maybe even give thanks for those things we’ve asked for and did not receive.
(If you think about it, you know I mean. If we prayed at any time in our lives for a particular boyfriend or girlfriend and did not receive them, and later found out that they were pretty horrible people—yes, we can give thanks for those things as well. Or, maybe it was a job that we wanted—a job we felt we were perfectly made for—and we prayed it, but it went to someone else. Later, we found that job was actually quite horrible. The person whose position we pray for ended up having horrible time. Those are examples of things we didn’t get when we prayed for them. ).
But, one thing we often don’t find ourselves giving thanks for are those moments of grace in our lives. Now, grace is something we hear a lot about in church, but few of us really “get” grace. But I love to preach about grace. Or, at least, my definition of grace. For me, grace is something we receive from God that we neither asked for nor fully anticipated in our lives. I usually talk about grace at weddings, because, for the most part, marriage is an example of grace in our midst. People come into our lives we don’t ask for, we don’t even know how to ask for, but who are still given to us. And the joy and contentment they bring is the greatest gift any of us can ever expect.
Children are another example of grace. No one fully realizes the blessings a child will give to one’s life until they come into our midst. There are countless other graces we have in our lives that we are no doubt thankful for. Especially in the cases of marriage and children, these graces change our lives. We are never again who were before they came into our lives. And that, I think, is the sign of true Grace. True grace transforms us and makes us different—and hopefully better—than we were before.
In our reading from the Hebrew scriptures tonight, we get a very beautiful image of grace. In it, we find God bringing in the Israelites into a “good land”—a land of beauty and abundance, where all their needs are taken care of. What’s so beautiful about this scripture is that, even if the Israelites would’ve know to pray for something like this, it still would not even come close to what God actually provides. See. Grace.
In many ways, this scripture describes how God grants us grace as well. Probably the greatest grace in our lives—and the one we might not fully appreciate—is Jesus himself. For the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness, hungry and anxious, God provided them a glorious land of abundance—full of food and drink.
For us, this food we receive is more substantial. Our food is the Bread which comes to us to feed us in such a way that we will never feel hungry again. It is the Bread that will not feed this body, which will die on us and be disposed of, but the Bread which will feed our souls, which will feed that part of us which will live forever. The Bread we receive is a bread we could never, on our own, even comprehended. The Bread we receive is Jesus himself. And it is Jesus—that truly amazing grace in our midst—whom we should be most thankful for.
Jesus’ presence in our life, the fact that in him we see God—God who came to us like food in the midst of aimless wandering, in flesh like our flesh, and who, by dying, destroyed that which we feared the most—death—that is something we didn’t ask for.
We are probably unable to even know how to ask for such a gift. And yet, unasked for, Jesus came to us and fed us with his own Body. Unasked for, God provided us with life in a way we still don’t fully appreciate or understand. Jesus came to us, like food in a glorious land after we had wandered about in our personal wilderness, and fed us in a way we didn’t even realized we could be fed.
This is the ultimate grace in our midst. This is the ultimate gift for us.
So, tomorrow, as we gather with our loved ones, as we take that time to inventory the blessings and all the good things in our lives, let us not forget to be thankful for that ultimate Grace in our lives—Jesus who is everything we need and long for and strive for.
Jesus—our food in the wilderness.
Jesus—our living Bread of life.
And let us thank God for the Grace above Graces, for the Grace that that is God.