What comes to mind when someone mentions Thanksgiving? I imagine that you would get a different answer from every person that you asked. More recently, we’ve seen the replacement of “Happy Thanksgiving” with “Happy Turkey Day”. It doesn’t make sense to me. Is the thought of giving thanks so very offensive? Upon reflection though, I begin to see why it might be offensive to some. Giving thanks implies that you are grateful to Someone, namely, that you are grateful to God. In today’s America, God is not recognized as the Sovereign that He is. But that was not always the case…

“By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.”

You’ve just read the first American Thanksgiving Proclamation, signed by President George Washington. I’d read it before, but reading it again last week I notice a few things in particular.

First, I pondered the time period in which it was written. The states had very recently gone through a difficult war for daring to declare their independence from England. On top of that, they were faced with creating an entirely new kind of government. Their first attempt had problems that the founders attempted to solve with the writing of the Constitution. It was a long and arduous process to write the document and even that was not the end! They next had to convince all of the states to ratify the new document. From the Declaration of Independence to the ratification of the Constitution was a process that literally took years. It had been a difficult time for Americans, yet they still recognized the great blessings that God had bestowed upon them. The suffering they had endured did not in any way diminish their faith.

The next thing that I took note of was the humility evident. Not only was this to be a day of thanksgiving to God, but also a day of repentance for personal and national sins. It’s easy enough to give thanks, but much harder to admit and repent of our sin. But President Washington, Congress and many of the people recognized the necessity of it.

Lastly, I was struck by the reference to God as “the great Lord and Ruler of Nations”. The very men who were charged with creating and leading the government of this new nation were mindful of the fact that they themselves were accountable to God above all others. They recognized Him as the Ruler of all nations! I think the truth of this is often lost today, even among Christian and libertarian circles. The truth is that God does rule over all nations, whether we acknowledge Him or not. The scriptures tell us in Psalm 86:9 that “All nations whom you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord; and shall glorify your name.” Every nation is accountable to Him. That is why there was a call to repent of not only of our personal sin, but our national sin as well.

Perhaps this Thanksgiving, we will think of more than just Pilgrims and turkeys. Perhaps we will remember to Whom we owe our thanksgiving. Perhaps we will all spend time in prayer and repentance. Such a thing truly would bring change to America.