Last Sunday evening, we joined with other religious congregations in Altadena’s “Community Thanksgiving Service.” Since this involves not only various Christian denominations, but also the Pasadena Jewish Temple, the Muslim mosque and the Baha’i Faith, we try to avoid Scriptures and hymns that focus on the uniqueness of the Gospel claim of salvation through Christ. Of course, that’s hard to deal with, because it feels like you’re taking the heart out of your faith. But over the ten or twelve years we’ve been having these joint Thanksgiving services, I’ve realized that those of us who have our hearts turned toward God do experience gratitude in a way that atheists and agnostics do not. I feel there is genuine worship going on among us.
But now I’m back in my office preparing for ABC’s own Thanksgiving Eve Service, and I have a sense of relief that the center of my thanks can once again focus on God’s gift of his Son for our salvation. The passage that stands out to me right now is in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, where he expresses why he is writing to congregations in cities he has never visited:
I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. . .
I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your life in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:2-3, 5-7)
This is a good description of all the many gifts that come to us as part of the salvation God has given us in Jesus. It is truly a “mystery” how so much grace and goodness can come into our lives in such a seemingly small package. With our faith in him comes “assured understanding,” “the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” “morale” and “firmness of faith.”
The climax of Paul’s exuberant celebration of the gospel is in the last phrase, “abounding in thanksgiving.” That’s a lot of thanksgiving! Even the most optimistic of us tend to think of the pluses in our lives as barely outweighing the minuses. A common image of thanksgiving is of a balance scale, where the good things in our lives are heavier than the bad things (right now), so we are thankful (right now). Tomorrow the scale may be out of balance in the opposite direction. But this can never happen if we fully embrace the phrase “abounding in thanksgiving.” I picture a perpetual fountain flowing with thanksgiving; it’s always overflowing the container receiving it. A superfluity of thanksgiving.
That’s what comes to us with Christ. There is nothing that can happen to us tomorrow that can swing the thanksgiving balance the other way.
— Pastor George Van Alstine