My holidays are always jam packed with events, visiting, and friends home for the holidays. Every year it is a mad dash to figure out Christmas gifts, thanksgiving plans, cooking and baking, birthday gifts and celebrations, church events, and by the way add in seeing our friends when they are home seeing their families. And now with a baby, there seems to be even more demand on time that just does not exist. It becomes very easy to get caught up the stress and lose sight of the true reasons for the holidays. If we only get some of the things on our holiday lists done or get everything done by some miracle of God doesn’t matter in the end because the real purpose of the holidays to use this opportunity to give thanks to God. Not to rush out and take advantage of black Friday deals and join in the craziness of the day.
Our job is to use thanksgiving as an opportunity to remember all the blessings that God has brought to our lives, even if we are forced to sit next to that strange uncle that no one likes. Paul asked his people to take a moment each day to thank God for all of his gifts, even if in those moments we can only thank him for the gift of Jesus Christ to our lives and to our world. He was asking people to live lives of gratitude as a way of combating the negativity of the world around them. There was an enormous amount of negativity going on all around them.
The Thessalonian Christians suffered greatly at the hands of their neighbors and at the hands of the empire that they once called home. But it also appears that they suffered from conflict within their own Christian community. Yet Paul called them to “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”. Paul actively lived a life of thanksgiving himself as an example to those earliest Christians. Even in the most challenging of times he found time to thank God because if for nothing else he could be thankful for Jesus Christ. In our lives we often are lost in our own struggles; in our own annoyances. It can be hard to feel thankful sometimes. Yet we are called to take time to find at least one thing in our life or in our world to express gratitude for.
Living such a life helps maintain peacefulness in our hearts and peacefulness in our communities. No matter how bleak life may be, no matter how dark things may get, there is still the beauty of the world around us. There are still things that are good about our lives. Phillips Brooks, an Episcopalian Clergyman in the 19th century, wrote, “If we comprehend what Christ has done for us, then surely out of gratitude we will strive to live ‘worthy’ of such great love. We will strive for holiness not to make God love us but because he already does”.
A thankful life requires more from us than just saying “Thanks” once and awhile. It requires living worthy lives. It requires that we live peaceably with our neighbors. It requires that we live with compassion and offer the embrace of friendship to those in need. It requires us to work for the good of others and not to get caught up in the negativity that sometimes prevails all around us. Just the other day, I was at Caraluzzi’s waiting at the deli when the woman next to me approached me and loudly proclaimed “I was here first you know”. I was just looking to see what was on sale not somehow cutting the line. Negativity sometimes comes at us from all angles and there are times that in our stress we all expect the worst of people when in reality people are just living their lives.
We should seek out the best in people. We should be striving to live lives of gratitude always searching for something to be thankful for. I urge each of you to start you days by making a list of all the things in your lives, in the world, and spiritually that you can be thankful for. At first it might be difficult and take some time, especially when we are experiencing those highly stressful times. But over time, I assure you that it will get easier and you will find that it changes how you view the world, the people you come into contact with, and even how you handle the ever aggravating holiday traffic.
For every holiday season for the past three years, this is how I handle the holidays to help me deal with the stress, the people, and the lines. Remember your families, your friends, and the love in your lives and know that God is present in it all. He only calls us to recognize him and to live into his blessings with thankfulness in our hearts and in the actions of our hands and the words of our mouths. This week, before Thanksgiving comes around, find the time to thank God in prayer, find the time to thank God also by reaching out and touch the life of someone in need whether they are grieving, lost and in need of guidance, need a friend, or need some material support. This is the challenge of living a life of gratitude. This is our charge in a time of heightened stress.
 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, RSV.
 Phillips Brooks, 19th century.
(Based on 1 Samuel 2: 1-10 and 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-28)