Thanksgiving is a time to remember God’s mercies. The cultural narrative remembers the first Thanksgiving as a meal shared between the Plymouth colony and the Indians. This three-day festival commemorated both the mercies of God and the hospitality of the native population for the Pilgrim settlers. The Pilgrims were Separatists who broke away from the state church in England. They had loaded up in a boat in Europe, seeking refuge from religious persecution. Over the course of their first year many died and the few supplies they were able to bring on their ship ran out during their first, harsh winter. The tribe provided them with the supplies necessary to make it through that first winter.
Of course, the facts of Thanksgiving’s origins are disputed… after all, we dispute everything nowadays. This harvest-time Thanksgiving meal did happen, however, and it was to celebrate those two things.
Christians today in the US are spending time with family and remembering the mercies of God. As gospel people, we cannot overlook God’s most gracious act on our behalf. Despite our sin and our own inability to fix it, God made a way for us out of death and into life. Paul writes, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19).
Believer, as you sit around your family table today, feasting with family and members of your household, remember that we await the preparation of another feast. If you are in Christ, then you are a member of the household of God, and a table is being prepared for you and for me.
But this holiday season, I want to challenge you to do more than think on these things. I want to challenge you to imitate them. We Christians all know it is both our responsibility and our pleasure to imitate our Lord. Again, Paul writes,
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:3-8).
We have been given much. God has provided for us in our poverty out of his great abundance, and we are called to do the same for others.
Unless your head has been under a rock for the last two weeks, you have seen the news and media swell about refugees. Do not worry; this is not one more post on what our country should do concerning immigrants. While the government and the citizens of this nation debate policy regarding future refugees, I want to deal with something different (but related). Regardless of our policy stance on future Syrian refugees, if we are Christians, we must also consider our personal ethic to migrants who are already here (and even to those that will continue to come). It is one thing to think it unwise to open up additional doors to Syrian refugees in light of recent events. It is a totally different thing to avoid, demonize, and stereotype the people who are here and coming. Policy is one thing; people are another. For the Christian, it is completely acceptable to think current policy decisions are unwise. It is unacceptable to treat these people with anything but love. When the Bible commands you to love even your enemies, it is hard to imagine anyone that it is acceptable to hate (or fear).
Christians must be people who allow the gospel to shape the way they treat others. In the gospel, we see both great sacrifice and unbelievable hospitality. Jesus gave up his life to save ours, and he did so to invite us into a community of grace. What is more, the call to his followers is one of sacrifice and hospitality. In a season so focused on thanksgiving and the good news of a savior, we do not need to forget these truths in relation to the refugees who already live in our cities. My fear is that we will let feelings about policy turn into feelings of hatred toward neighbors we already have.
Instead, I challenge you to look for tangible ways to show love to your international neighbors. Here are a couple of practical ways you can extend mercy to migrants around you this holiday season:
Invite an international student for a meal. Our holiday season is a uniquely American cultural experience. As students here, they are looking for opportunities to see this. Our holidays are excellent gospel opportunities. Go ahead, tell that student from India about the mercies of God in his provision. And by all means, tell him that unto us is born a savior!
Many universities have programs designed to connect international students with American families who would like to treat them to a meal in their home. Check with your local college or university today. There is a good chance it will bless both the student and your family.
Adopt a refugee family. Here is one that looks like the very best parts of our Thanksgiving folklore. Remember, our people were migrants once who depended on the hospitality of Native Americans when we could not take care of ourselves. And more importantly, we were once strangers and aliens, but God in his mercy brought us into the household of God.
Many refugee resettlement agencies allow churches, small groups, or families to connect with a refugee family. These refugees come from all over the world, and since they are refugees, they are running from some form of persecution or hardship. Many have physical needs and many have other soft-skill needs. They may need furniture when they first arrive, or they may need someone to help them fill out job applications. Find out which resettlement agencies work in your area and start the process.
This holiday season, may we offer more than platitudes for God’s mercies in our life. May we be people so profoundly impacted by God’s grace to us that we extend grace to others.
Photo by: Marjory Collins [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons