The Feast of Thanksgiving

  • Read Ecclesiastes 2 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (November 22) you can listen to it here.

My Thanksgiving sermon this year was heavily influenced by a presentation I heard by Dr Dave Bland at the Great Lakes Lectureship in late October.  As he taught on the book of Ecclesiastes a couple of things caught my attention.  First, the Jews today read Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles (sukkot), which has a lot in common with American Thanksgiving.  Second, he highlighted Ecclesiastes’ emphasis on joy, which was news to me.

There are seven joy passages within Ecclesiastes.  (2:24-26; 3:9-14; 3:22; 5:17-20; 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:7-10)  Scholars disagree regarding their significance, but the viewpoint Dr Bland presented establishes these passages as the core message of the book.  My message focused on the first of the joy passages found in 2:24-26.

In the first eleven verses of chapter 2, Qoheleth (the Hebrew name used by the author, a word thought to mean ‘Teacher”) searches for meaning by pursuing pleasure.  His quest is summed up in v10, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.”  And yet in v11 the pursuit only resulted in emptiness, “a chasing after the wind.

Instead in v24 he concludes that the best thing we can do is to “eat, drink and find satisfaction in our toil.”  Over in 9:7-9 the eating and drinking is placed in a context of enjoying life with family, specifically, one’s wife.  The enjoyment is not found in the food itself, but in the context of loving relationships.

This sounds to me a lot like Thanksgiving, or Christmas, dinner.  A meal with family and friends, contentedly resting from work, and celebrating God’s goodness.  Anyone who experiences conflict within their family may regard this picture as unrealistically idyllic.  And for many people it is.  Perhaps that’s why Qoheleth describes this scene as a gift “from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?”

We don’t obtain meaning for our lives through pursuing pleasure, but through placing God at the centre of our lives.  When we do this He allows us to enjoy life.  While we might often see God in the big areas of our life: family, job, and health, God also makes possible the enjoyment of many small moments.

I hope that each reader will at some point pause their festivities and notice God around their dinner table.

  • Do you have a favorite “small part” of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner that reminds you of God’s presence & provision?
  • Is this an interesting way of approaching Ecclesiastes?  Should I write some more on this topic?
  • At first glance Ecclesiastes is a strange book to read at Thanksgiving.  What would you suggest as an appropriate Scripture passage?

If you’re trying to understand how these “joy passages” serve as a theme for the book a couple of extra points might prove helpful.

  1. Each ‘joy passage” addresses the “meaningless” passages before and sometimes after, so you need to read them in context.
  2. The phrase “People can do nothing better” needs to be read not as an exasperated sigh that “the only thing left to do is…”, but as a declaration that “The best thing that people can possible do is…”
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3 comments

  1. rob

    Do you have a favorite “small part” of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner that reminds you of God’s presence & provision?

    I thank our Father everyday for sending the Lamb to die so that all Baptized Christians (who stay in the Lord) and follow all of His commands will have eternal life; this includes not adding to His commands by trying to make Human Traditions part of His Holy commands and Days. God says this is a SIN in Col 2: 8: See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter are Human Traditions and do not belong in the Lord’s Church.
    . The “Gospel Advocate” this past month did a series of articles on ‘Religious Authority: Does your Standard Stand Up?’

    One of the articles was on Christmas and Easter, but we can add Thanksgiving as it falls under human traditions as well and not from God.

    In the article by Brother Barry Baggott he started the article as: “What should the attitude of the Church be toward Christmas and Easter and other religious holidays? As with a number of other matters, we seem to be witnessing a change in attitudes and practices.” He goes on to describe how churches of Christ congregations have started having services centered around the birth of Christ (Christmas) and Death of Christ (Easter) and how these congregations are putting manger scenes, trees in the biuldings, wreaths on the doors and the service is centered around the Birth of Christ for Christmas and at Easter, egg hunts, etc.

    He goes on and says: “When changes are made because people have studied the Scriptures and discovered that they were wrong in their understanding, change is a good thing. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 (New International Version)
    21Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22Avoid every kind of evil.

    On the other hand, when God’s people just adopt the practices or beliefs of their religious neighbors without carefully evaluating them in the light of God’s Word, they embark on a dangerous path. Deuteronomy 12: 29-30). Popular opinion, human tradition, and moving experiences are not a safe guide.”

    Further down in the article he examines why celebrating these holidays as God’s holidays is Sinful.
    “Why Not Observe the Holidays?

    We are told not to do so:
    The basic reason for not Observing Christmas or Easter (not to mention Ascension, Pentecost, Assumption, All Saints Day, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Palm Sunday or any other special days in the liturgical calandars of Catholic and Protestant churches) is the simple fact that the New Testament nowhere teaches us to do so. Many important events are listed in the Gospels, but only one that the Lord asked His followers to commemorate in a special way was His death, which we do on the first day of every week when we take the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 11:23-26).” The Church teaches for every act we do there must a Biblical command to do it (Book, chapter, verse) and need to be able to say “Thus saith the Lord“.

    Without these we are no better than all the other sinful churches who pick what they want to follow in the Bible.

    “We have no Apostolic example:
    The New Testament contains neither a command to observe special days such as Christmas or Easter nor apostolic example of Early Christians doing so. Practices such associated with these days therefore do not fall under the order to teach them “to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:20) or under the principle of doing “all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” that is by His authority (Col. 3:17).” This is what I said last year as well that we need a command for anything that we do, without them we have no right to do it.

    “We are following human traditions:
    Among the arguments that one hears in favor of incorporating Christmas and Easter into worship is the idea that the world is thinking of Christ at these times of year and we should take advantage of that to share the Gospel.” he goes on to say it: “has yet to be demonstrated.” this argument is indeed true.
    We can certainly now add Thanksgiving to this as well now that the subject that God gave us Thanksgiving was taught. Again give me book, chapter and verse in the N.T.

    “Does Romans 14 Justify Celebrating the Holidays?
    A common conception is that Paul’s teaching on Christian liberty makes the whole question of special days just a matter of personal choice.  One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:5-6).
    It is important to point out a few things about the context of these verses in Romans 14.

    Paul was NOT referring to new holy days. First of all, Paul did not have in mind the so-called Christian holidays because they did not even exist in the first century. He was not talking about creating new holy days to commemorate events in the life of Christ and making them a part of Christian life.”
    The apostle was referring to Jewish Christians who wanted to continue to celebrate Jewish Holy Days.
    “although it was no longer necessary for Jewish Christians to observe these days, Paul did not forbid them to do so. On the other hand, he was alarmed when the Gentile Christians were being taught to keep them. He told the Galatians: You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Gal 4:10-11; Col 2:16)

    “Paul was not referring to congregational worship or activities

    Romans is not talking about collective activities involving the participation of whole congregations. The Chapter is dealing with private actions and Beliefs”

    It maybe ok to celebrate these things in the privacy of your own home but no man has the right to introduce them in God’s worship service.

    Is this an interesting way of approaching Ecclesiastes?  Should I write some more on this topic?

    This is not an interesting way of approaching Ecclesiastes as Thanksgiving has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with the book of Ecclesiastes or the New Testament Church, this is a human holiday that the Pilgrims and Indians started at Plymouth Rock. To try to say that it is Jewish or Christian holy day is a falsehood and should not be taught. It certainly is not part of the Gospel that was preached to me at any point of my Christian or non Christian life (before I was Baptized) and I have worshiped in numerous congregations, (until last week) and hopefully I will never hear a C of Christ preacher try to pass it off as Christian Holiday again as it was completely unScriptural.

    At first glance Ecclesiastes is a strange book to read at Thanksgiving.  What would you suggest as an appropriate Scripture passage?

    I would suggest :

    Galatians 4:10-11, You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

    Col 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

    Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God

    Jer. 10:1- 3 “Hear what the LORD says to you, O house of Israel. 2 This is what the LORD says:
           “Do not learn the ways of the nations
           or be terrified by signs in the sky,
           though the nations are terrified by them.
     3 For the customs of the peoples are worthless; “

    The Church of Christ was established on the day of Pentecost and has been in existence since and it is my responsibility as a member of the Lord’s Church to teach the correct Gospel, the one that was preached in the first century, the one that Christ commanded his followers to teach. We are to love all and try to save all by spreading the true Gospel of Christ, not teach human traditions (sinful teachings).

  2. Mark Wagner

    The book of Ecclesiastes has always had a certain resonance with me. From a relatively early age, I felt the meaninglessness of life as described in the book. I would wonder about the purpose of life, and whether God was real. So I could identify with the author.
    After becoming a Christian, I’ve been encouraged by the author’s conclusions in chapter 12: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
    Now you’ve given me an interesting new way to look at the text. Substituting the Hebrew word for “vapor” or “fleeting” in place of “meaningless”, puts the emphasis on the brevity of life instead of the futility of life. So I will take a new look at the text with this viewpoint in mind, and I look forward to your additional thoughts about Ecclesiastes, as well.

  3. ozziepete

    Thanks for your comments Mark, I’m glad you found the topic interesting. I won’t be doing a series on Ecclesiastes any time soon, but when I learned that the Jews read the book at the Feast of Tabernacles, or sukkot, my interest was piqued and I thought Thanksgiving was a good time to share my discovery with the church.

    Rob, I’m not going to respond in a lot of detail as we’ve previously had this discussion here, and my beliefs on the issue have not changed in the last 12 months.

    My sermon focused on seeking God’s presence in the small blessings in our lives. I did not say that Thanksgiving is a biblical celebration, but that it serves as an example of the blessings described in Ecclesiastes.

    Since the Bible does not provide me with a preaching calendar, I have no problem with choosing to preach on topics that relate to the lives of those present. Since the church members experience Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year, Easter, Mother’s & Father’s Day, Independence Day, etc. I see no problem with preaching sermons that address those celebrations at those times. If the Bible gave me a preaching schedule, that would be different.

    None of these holidays involve the church in worshiping idols, nor do they stop us from worshiping God. We simply use them as a prompt to consider what the Bible says about a particular aspect of God and our relationship with Him.

    I’m sorry that the mention of Thanksgiving & Christmas sparked this response, as I know others found the message from Ecclesiastes beneficial.

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