Sermon: Make Ready

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent


Malachi 3:1-4
Matthew 24:36-44

Many, If not all of us, are preparing for something. I would hazard to guess that we are all preparing, in some way, for Christmas. I am preparing my sermons. The Choir is preparing hymns and carols. The church was beautifully decorated this past week, thank you to all who helped out with that. We are decorating our homes. We are shopping for gifts, writing out cards, and all the rest. Some of us are preparing to head south for the winter, packing, forwarding mail, stopping the newspaper, telling neighbors, etc. etc. etc. We are preparing, that’s good, that what Advent is all about, preparing.

The Prophet Malachi comes to us today with a message from God that God is sending his messenger to prepare the way. The messenger will suddenly appear. This will be the messenger of the covenant. This is good news, and the Prophet is happy to share it with those around him. But then comes the questions.

Malachi likes to ask questions in fact, his entire prophecy is about questions. “How has God loved us?” (1:2) “Has not God created us?” (2:10) “Where is the God of justice?” (2:17) “How shall we return to God?” (3:7) There are twenty-two questions in just fifty-five verses, Malachi has a lot of questions.

Having questions, questioning things that we once believed and now, not so much, is not a bad thing. Asking questions and engaging in dialogue is a healthy part of our spiritual life and one that I think we need to do more of. It is always a goal of mine, when writing a sermon, to leave you with questions, sometimes leaving you with more questions than answers, and it is my hope, that we ponder these questions and perhaps, seek out that answers. This is what allows us to grow spiritually and allows our faith to mature that that is what Malachi is doing.

But then, he changes is questions. He has just announced that the way is being made clear and then asks “But who can endure the day of his coming?” In other words, who is going to be ready if Jesus appeared right now?

Many years ago, before the internet, there was a cartoon in the newspaper that pictured a bunch of people standing around and one of them saying, “Jesus is coming, look busy.” Now it, like all cartoons are supposed to do, elicited a chuckle but what are we do in the day of his coming?

In the examples I have already used, we know the day, Christmas is December 25th and, those you heading south, know the day you will be leaving, but what about the day Jesus returns? The entirety of the Old Testament is about waiting for the day of the coming of the Lord, they were waiting for thousands of years, since “in the beginning” for the Messiah. They were in a constant state of Advent. Imagine how many candles their Advent Wreath had.

As you can imagine, some got quite bored with the whole thing and wandered off and did their own thing, then Moses comes along and reminds them of what they are waiting for. Gives them a list of things to do and rules for how to behave. So they wait, and more times passes, more folks get bored and wander off, so the Prophets come and warn people, but yet they wait, light more Advent candles, and nothing. Then, a baby is born, but more about that later.

So back to Malachi’s question, “who can abide?” But you’re asking, when is he coming? How can I be ready for his coming if I don’t know when he is coming? It’s like me telling you today at fellowship, I am going to pop over for a visit, be ready, and I walk away. You do not know when I am coming, but you need to be prepared.

Much is made about the date and time of the return of Jesus. We all know that Jesus told his Disciples that He was going to return as Christians we believe, as it says in the now famous Apostles Creed, that “he will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Preachers like Oral Roberts and Kimmy Swaggert predicted the date and time, well it has come and gone and no Jesus. Jim Bakker will sell you a five gallon pale of rapture food or some such thing, for $45 so you can be ready. The food has a long shelf life so no need to worry. Everyone seems to think they know when the Second coming is, well, coming. But, as we heard in the Gospel of Matthew, “But about the day and the hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Yup, you heard that right, Jesus does not even know when he is going to return but somehow these guys on the TV know.

Well, Jesus has the answer for that as well, funny how these guys never get to the end of the Scripture they like to quote, “Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” We do not know when he is coming so we better look busy.

So back to Malachi.

Malachi tells us that the one coming is, “like the refiner’s fire.” When metal is purified it is heated to its liquid state, and the impurities are removed from the top of the liquid, and then the metal is left to cool with all of the contaminants gone. We are the metal that needs purification but, unlike metal, we do not need to be heated to a liquid state for that to happen.

So how do we accomplish this? This refining? Well, you are doing it now, you are here, in the community, working out your faith. You ask questions, some rather difficult ones at times, and you seek out answers. You pray, daily, I hope, for direction from God on all matters large and small. You seek out a spiritual guide or director, who can lead you and direct you along the path. You read scripture, daily, I hope, to help you find those answers that you seek. You love God, and you love neighbor. You feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the “least of these” daily. This is how we refine ourselves, and this is how we prepare.

Following the example that Jesus left us, as best we can, is the way to refine ourselves. Just like athletes have to train daily, so we must prepare our spiritual lives daily. We make room in our busy lives for what is essential, well, this is important, so we need to make room in the Inn of our lives to spend some time, daily, with God.

For generations, these passages have been used to keep people in fear. Preachers have used these passages, and ones like them, to make the people afraid and then to impose laws and regulations on them, and seek donations, to keep them on the right path. For generations religion has been about fear, well, on this second Sunday of Advent, I am here to tell you that religion is not about fear religion is about love. Religion should be about inclusion, not exclusion. I have mentioned this before that God’s love does not exclude anyone, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The verse says “whoever” not “those who follow these rules.” EVERYONE!

God saw that things were not working, his messengers were not getting his message across, so he sent his Son to show us the way. Jesus did not just tell us, he showed us and left us an example of how to refine, of how to be ready, and about how to love, without conditions. The message of the Scripture today, the message of Advent, The message of Christmas, the message of the entire Gospel is that God loves you right here and right now and has opened the doors for us.

Do not wait, for we do not know the day or the hour. Just like you do not wait until the last minute to prepare for a trip, do not wait to prepare your spiritual life. But always remember, God loves you.

The Real St. Nicholas

One of the things I believe the Protestant Reformers got wrong was removing any sense of devotion to saints. I understand the reason behind their objection but this, like other things, just went too far and we have removed a vibrant part of the history of the Universal Church. One of those saints is traditionally celebrated on December 6th, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, the inspiration for Santa Clause.

It is believed that Nicholas was born in the late 3rd century in Patara, Lycia in Asia Minor to wealthy Christian parents and was an early Christian bishop of the ancient Greek city of Myra in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey) during the time of the Roman Empire. Like most saints of that period, their life is not truly known; however, several legends are attributed to his life.

One of his earliest acts is said to have been rescuing three young girls from being forced into prostitution by secretly dropping sacks of gold coins, for three nights, through the window of their father’s house enabling his to pay the dowry for each of his daughters. It is from this legend that the tradition of placing shoes out on the eve of St. Nicholas day (December 5th) and placing gold coins and other small gifts in them.  This secret gift giving is also where the tradition of the modern day Santa Clause comes from.

But, my favorite story comes from the first Church Council held in Nicea in the 325 AD. During that council, speakers would drown on for hours about deep spiritual and theological subjects.  At some point during the debates, Nicholas had enough with one particular speaker Arius, who was later declared a heretic by the same council. Legend has it, Nicholas, totally exasperated with what Arius was saying, left his seat, walked over to Arius while he was speaking, and punched him in the face. This action landed Nicholas in jail, and he was forced to repent and offer an apology to Arius. It appears that not all saints always acted in a holy way.

There is much to be learned from the life of St. Nicholas, punching heretics notwithstanding, about sacrificial giving and helping those who are in need which is the real spirit of Christmas. We have the opportunity to support the “least of these” on Christmas Eve with the hat and mitten tree.  Please consider a donation while you are out shopping. Just like the gift of gold coins St. Nicholas dropped through the window, your contribution might just save someone’s life.

This essay first appeared in the Newsletter of First Congregational Church of Salem, New Hampshire as my “From the Pastor” column.

Sermon: Sign of Things to Come

A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent 2018

 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” Jeremiah 33:14-16

Today we begin our journey towards the birth of the Christ child on the morning of Christmas. Today, in a time of hustle and bustle, the church is calling us to slow down, to prepare, to wait, and to anticipate the coming of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and the prince of peace. If there was ever a time that the church is calling us to live in a way that is counter cultural it is during the season of Advent.

Today we lit the first candle on our advent wreath. The circle of evergreen that will be a reminder to us that God’s love is eternal just as the circle is eternal and that is love for us will not change, just as the green on the branches will not change regardless of the harshness of the season. We lit the first candle, the one that represents hope, the flame of hope that we will carry with us out into the world of darkness in the hope of bringing just a little light that might brighten the day of someone we meet.

Each week we will light another one, hope, joy, peace, and love until we finally come to the eve of his birth and we light the large white candle in the center. It is white to denote the purity not only of Jesus but of God’s love for us that he sent his son to live like us so we might have an advocate with the father. With the lighting of that final candle the wreath will sit ablaze with the light of our prayers and the warmth of the love that we are to share with one another. This is the advent season. The Advent season opens us to the mystery and centrality of the presence of God in the world and in our lives.

I understand that the world wants us to start our shopping and our celebrating but this is not the time. I also understand that in our world today we have to begin all of this early but we also need to make time for the important season of advent and the lessons that we have to learn. Just like we cannot have Easter without Lent and Good Friday, we cannot have Christmas, we cannot truly understand the message of Christmas if we do not pause to at least acknowledge Advent.

Advent calls us to a time of repentance and reconciliation and the liturgical colors remind us of that.  The covering on the pulpit and communion table have changed to purple. The color has changed to remind us that the season has changed and to cause us to think about relationships that need tending to and perhaps mending. Purple is also used during the time of Lent for the same reason and the early church considered Advent another Lenten season with the same themes.

In my “From the Pastor” column this week I quoted from the Orthodox Christian theologian Thomas Hopko, “Jesus lay as an infant in the cavern in the reign of Caesar Augustus that he might lay in the tomb under Pontius Pilate. He was hounded by Herod that he might be caught by Caiaphas. He was buried in baptism that he might descend into death through the cross. He was worshipped by wise men that the whole of creation might adore him in his triumph over death.”  You see there is a connection and a continuity to the entire church years.

But this first Sunday of Advent we think about hope. I do not think there is a better time than right now to think about hope. There is not much to be hopeful about. Politics has us on edge, another survey about the decline of the church; suicide rates are at an all-time high and have now affected the life expectancy here in the United States, racism, white supremacy, nationalism, anti-Semitism, opioids and all the rest. There does not seem to be much to be hopeful about, but as Christians we have to be.

The word hope appears 129 times in scripture, in 105 verses, 40 chapter, and 28 books the word hope stands out for us. I would suggest that the entire New Testament is about hope. God sent his Son to give us hope. Jesus was born to give us hope. Jesus called the 12 to give us hope. Jesus healed the sick, made the lame walk, restored sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf to give us hope. Jesus fed 5,000 refugees when they came to him to give us hope. Jesus walked alone to his death to give us hope. And Jesus rose from the dead to give us hope. The entire Gospel, the good news, is about hope and so it is hope that we must have for we have no other choice.

I do not usually find my inspiration for sermons from the writings of the Prophets of the Old Testament but Advent lends itself well to their writings. The Prophetic works announce the coming of Christ in some of the most poetic fashion that entire works of music have been composed using only their writings, so I thought this year, I would give it a shot.

Jeremiah comes to us today with his pronouncement of hope for his generation and for us.

“The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.” “In those days.” And “At that time.” “This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”

Jeremiah is telling those listening, and us, that the day of righteousness is coming. This righteousness is not an attitude or an absolute standard by which we are to govern our lives, righteousness is how we conduct our lives and how we do God’s purpose in this world, love God and love neighbor. We are called through the righteousness that Jeremiah speaks of to do good by doing the good things of God, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the least of these the anawim of God, the ones crying out for a better life and stand with their brokenness at our front door. We are called to doing not just being the hands and feet of God in this world. We are called to make disciples of all by loving all, without question and without condition. The righteousness that Jeremiah is speaking of is a humble ethic of living towards others in justice and loving relationships.

In a few moments the elements that have been placed on the Communion table will be uncovered and I will invite you to come to the table, not because you must but because you can. The Sacrament that we will observe this morning nourishes us by the hope of God’s coming and it also allows us to participate in the future, we get a glimpse of what is possible by the breaking and sharing of the bread and the cup when one will go hungry or thirsty. This is the sacrament of love, the sacrament of justice, and the sacrament of righteousness, and all are invited to participate in it.

Our Advent journey continues and we are reminded to “prepare Ye the way of the Lord.” And we do that by preparing not only our homes but our hearts. We make room under the tree of our hearts for the gift that God has given us, his Son, Jesus Christ.

The First Sunday of Advent: Hope

For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
Isaiah 60:2

Introductory Sentences

Today is the beginning of Advent – the preparation time for celebrating Christ’s birth. We are here because God’s promises to our ancestors came true when Jesus was born. God’s promise is kept each Sunday when we worship because Christ is in our midst. God will keep the promise to come again in glory.

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is hope. Because of Christ we not only have hope, but we believe that good is stronger than evil. God wants us to work for good in this world.

Prayer

O God, we thank you that Jesus brought hope into our world. By the good news of the Bible you are still bringing hope to people. Help us to be ready to welcome Jesus Christ so that we may be a people of hope in our world. Amen.

Book of Worship, United Church of Christ

The Advent Wreath

They come in all sizes and with a variety of candle colors but where did the Advent Wreath come from and how did it become so popular?

The Advent Wreath traces its lineage to 16th century German Lutherans, but it was not until 1839 when Johann Hinrich Wichern really started to use it.  Hinrich was a pioneer in the concept of Urban Ministry and seeing the inpatients of the children preparing for Christmas he devised wreath of sorts. He began with a wooden circle with 19 small red candles and four larger ones. Every morning a small candle was lit and on Sunday’s one of the larger ones. Custom has only the larger ones as part of the wreath now.

But what about the symbolism of the wreath itself?

The wreath is customarily constructed of evergreen to signify life during all of the seasons of the year. The evergreen also reminds us that God’s love for us will never fade. It is fashioned in a perfect circle to symbolize the eternity of God and God’s unbroken love for us. Four candles are placed around the wreath. In some churches, all the candles are purple whilst in other churches three are purple and one is rose or pink.  Sometimes blue is used as well rather than purple. In the center of the wreath is a larger candle called the “Christ Candle” that is lit on Christmas Eve and Christmas day and all Sunday’s including Epiphany.

The Advent Wreath, with all of its candles, did bring more light into the church at a time when electric and even gas lamps were not used, but the spiritual significance of the wreath and the light is to illuminate the people with the light and the warmth of the coming of Christ into the world.

The four weeks of Advent each have a theme that corresponds to one of the candles. These themes focus on the four virtues that Jesus brings: hope, love, joy, and peace. There are other themes as well: Prophets, angels, shepherds, and the Magi as well as additional theological themes of the forgiveness of Adam and Eve, the faith of the Abraham and the Prophets, the joy of David, and the Teaching of the Prophets concerning justice and peace.

The center candle, the Christ candle, is lit on Christmas Eve as a sign of the completing of the Advent journey and the announcement of the birth of the Christ Child. With all of the candles of the wreath lit the full light of Christ has come into the world, and the “people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah 9:2

Advent: The Journey Begins

As the days continue to get shorter and the light is with us for a brief period each day the church calls us to the season of Advent in preparation for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas. Advent is the season that calls us from the darkness and into the light. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

Just as there is a connection between Christmas and Easter, there is a connection between Lent and Advent. The birth and baptism of Jesus is directly connected to his dying and rising. He was born to die. He was baptized to be raised. The harmony between the events is overwhelming.

“Jesus lay as an infant in the cavern in the reign of Caesar Augustus that he might lay in the tomb under Pontius Pilate. He was hounded by Herod that he might be caught by Caiaphas. He was buried in baptism that he might descend into death through the cross. He was worshipped by wise men that the whole of creation might adore him in his triumph over death.”  (Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha)

This connection between the two festive times of the year is the reason that Christians celebrate not only Christmas but Advent and we shortchange that if we skip over it and move right to the birth.  Just as we cannot have Easter without Good Friday, we cannot have Christmas without Advent.

The season of Advent calls us to slow down at a time when the world is calling us to speed up. The season of Advent is calling us to a time of preparation, not just of our homes for the festivities surrounding Christ’s birth, but our spiritual homes for Jesus comes not only to our homes but to our hearts. Jesus is calling each of us out of the dark winter and into the light and warmth of his love for each of us and the world.

As you prepare for the coming season, I urge you to take time to slow down, just a little, and make room for Jesus in your life. Spend time with his word and in prayer and prepare for the message to come announcing his birth and then we can sing Joy to the World.

Is the “Church” truly in decline?

As the spiritual leader of a local congregation, I spend much of my time reading and staying up to date on the latest trends in all things church.  One of the most amazing things to me is this desire to reduce to success or failure of a church based on numbers. It seems to be all about the numbers of people that cross the threshold of the church building on any given Sunday as if a church of 1,000 is more successful than a home church of 5!  I just don’t get it.

The other part of the equation is our definition of church. Most of the “church growth” folks think of the church as the building, and the expression of that is what takes place inside the building, namely, the Sunday morning worship service. It seems that these folks never take into consideration any alternative ministry, the ministry that does not take place inside the building but is focused only on what happens inside the four walls of the church.

There is no doubt that church is changing, just look around, but that does not mean people are not engaged on a spiritual level outside of the confines of the four walls of the church.

I do believe church as we have always known it is in decline and I am not sure that is a bad thing. Society has caused a shift in the way we work and live, and the church needs to adapt.  We can stand on the steps of the church on Sunday morning and shake our fist at the world, but that will not bring them back. We can lament all we want about Sunday just being another day of the week, but the reality is, life has changed, and it is going to reverse.

So, we have to redefine what it means to be the church and what church means. We also need to redefine what success and failure look like when it comes to ministry.

Sermon: Do Not Worry

A Sermon Based on Matthew 6:25-33

 

A few times a week I will have a conversation with someone about how their life is going. They have concerns about their health, their job, their children, or any number of issues that face us in our world. We honestly have much to be concerned about, and that concern can sometimes lead us to worry.

I guess I could say that I am somewhat of a worrier. I tend to over think somethings and let them get under my skin and then it causes me to worry about them. However, the biggest thing I worry about, most of the time, is the Sunday sermon. I tend to work on the sermon all week, but I rise early on Sunday morning, and I put pen to paper, actually, I put fingers to keyboard, and I begin to write. I am a manuscript preacher, so I write out my sermons.

Now I know, on an intellectual level, that most weeks, everything will be fine, but that does not stop those worries come Sunday night, and I have been known to just lay there in bed worrying about what I am going to say. I fear that the printer will work and I have the paper to print on.  Is the ink running low, what if the lights go out and the computer will not start? My penmanship is so bad that if I had to write this out by hand, I would not be able to read what I have written. However, there I am, in the darkness, worrying about all of these things.

From time to time to talk about these issues with my spiritual director and the response is usually the same, “have you done everything you need to do to prepare?” So my response is, “yes, I believe I have” and the response back is, “then why are you worrying?” You see my friends, I am a worrier, and that is what we do, we worry.

Ona n intellectual level I know that worrying about things I have no control over, like the electricity going out, is stupid and senseless. I do not control the flow of electrons through the wires, I do not control the trees that might fall on those wires and knock the power out, but I am in control of being prepared just in case. Perhaps waiting until Sunday morning, as I do most weeks, to get the text written is not the best idea, maybe I should begin earlier and just refine on Sunday morning, but, here I sat this very morning writing these words after laying awake worrying if the power was going to go off.

I shared with you last week, a little of the work that the search committee has started. We are looking at the typical person who lives within a three and a half mile radius of the church. Getting to know who lives outside the walls of the church will better prepare us to answer the question, “who is our neighbor?” I shared some of the demographic stuff last week, middle forties, female, professional, married, etc. However, what I did not share was, what are they concerned about?

Statistically speaking, the area that surrounds the church is stable and growing. It has not always been this way, but, and again based on statistics, the city is growing, and people are moving in. The people that are choosing to live here are, for the most part, professionals with well-paying jobs; they feel some security in their position and are moving here to put down roots.

However, even though there is some security in their position they still worry about job security and their health as well as the health of their families. These are their top concerns, employment, or lack of jobs, and health. Basically, they are asking the question, what will happen to my family if something happens to me?

I am not sure if we as a congregation can answer that question, but this is a genuine concern for the folks that might make their way to our doorstep. From a spiritual standpoint, I would ask them, as my spiritual director asks me, have you done everything to prepare if something does happen? Do you have adequate health insurance? Do you have sufficient savings? Do you have a will? Do you have life insurance? All of the practical questions. If the answer to all or most of these is yes, then what we are worrying about is out of our control. Now intellectually I know this, but in my heart, I still worry.  You see sometimes the heart outweighs the intellect and controls us.

Way back in the ancient days of the 1980s, the singer Bobby McFadden had a hit song called “don’t worry, be happy.” The song was a knock-off of an Indian Sage from the 1800s whose mantra was similar, but it was about peace rather than happiness. However, the message is simple, don’t worry, be happy.  Always easier to say than to do. Of course, now that recreational marijuana use is legal just below the board in Massachusetts, there are a lot of happy people. However, I will leave that for another day.

In the gospel passage, we heard read this morning we hear Jesus telling us not to worry about our lives. He tells us we should not worry about having food or clothing because God will take care of us. Now that might be okay for you and me as I can see we all have something to wear this morning and I am making an assumption here, but we all had something to eat this morning. So Jesus sounds a little harsh and uncaring, and if you think that you are right, he does seem harsh, but Jesus was not speaking in a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen. Jesus was not talking to the anawim, the “least of these” Jesus was speaking to ordinary folks that have food, have shelter, have clothing, and have jobs, they have all this, but they continuously want more.

Jesus is telling them, and us, to be satisfied with what you have and that we should not always be looking for the next thing, the bigger house, the better car, the next gadget that will break in three weeks. I can only imagine what Jesus would have to say about the likes of Black Friday! There is nothing wrong with wanting security and comfort, but what does it cost us to get there? Are we gaining comfort and safety if we are maxed out on credit cards? Sometimes the unforeseen happens, and our preparation has given us those credit cards to use, but are we using them in an emergency or are we using them to keep up with the Joneses.

I am not sure how many of you have heard of Dave Ramsey, but he is a financial guru of sorts that helps folks get out of debt, and avoid debt, by teaching them about money and value for the dollar. He bases most of what he teaches on Christian principals and just plain old smarts. He desires that no one use credit and we only use cash, not sure how practical that is but this is what he teaches. I do not always agree with him, but one this I do agree with is his mantra that we “should live like no one else so we can live like no one else.” In other words, we do what we have to do today, so in the future, we do not have to worry so much about those things. So we stay within our means today, so tomorrow we can live a little better.

But back to the gospel passage.

Jesus tells us at the end that the stuff we really should be worried about is the kingdom of God, righteousness, and justice. Care for our spirituality, living a righteous life, not a self-righteous life but a righteous one, and justice for all of humanity. These are the things that we should be concerned about and working towards not a bigger house and a bigger car and the latest gadget that will break in three weeks, but, and you thought you were not going to hear about it, love of God and love of neighbor.

What Jesus is saying here is, God will take care of you … so take care of God’s justice in the world.  There is more to life than concern for daily needs, though this may prove difficult for some. But Jesus expects his followers to put forward energy into things that give more meaning to life.  We must strive to discern how God is working in the world “God’s kingdom” and how to participate in acts of justice on God’s behalf “God’s righteousness.”  Beyond that, everything else will take care of itself.  Or, to summarize Jesus, God will deal with the rest.

Presidential Proclamation on Thanksgiving Day, 2018

After surviving a frigid winter and achieving their first successful harvest in 1621, the Pilgrims set aside 3 days to feast and give thanks for God’s abundant mercy and blessings. Members of the Wampanoag tribe who had taught the Pilgrims how to farm in New England and helped them adjust and thrive in that new land shared in the bounty and celebration. In recognition of that historic event, President George Washington, in 1789, issued a proclamation declaring the first national day of thanksgiving. He called upon the people of the United States to unite in rendering unto God our sincere and humble gratitude “for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country” and “the favorable interpositions of his Providence.” President Abraham Lincoln revived this tradition as our fractured Nation endured the horrors of the Civil War. Ever since, we have set aside this day to give special thanks to God for the many blessings, gifts, and love he has bestowed on us and our country.

This Thanksgiving, as we gather in places of worship and around tables surrounded by loved ones, in humble gratitude for the bountiful gifts we have received, let us keep in close memory our fellow Americans who have faced hardship and tragedy this year. In the spirit of generosity and compassion, let us joyfully reach out in word and deed, and share our time and resources throughout our communities. Let us also find ways to give to the less fortunate whether it be in the form of sharing a hearty meal, extending a helping hand, or providing words of encouragement.

We are especially reminded on Thanksgiving of how the virtue of gratitude enables us to recognize, even in adverse situations, the love of God in every person, every creature, and throughout nature. Let us be mindful of the reasons we are grateful for our lives, for those around us, and for our communities. We also commit to treating all with charity and mutual respect, spreading the spirit of Thanksgiving throughout our country and across the world.

Today, we particularly acknowledge the sacrifices of our service members, law enforcement personnel, and first responders who selflessly serve and protect our Nation. This Thanksgiving, more than 200,000 brave American patriots will spend the holiday overseas, away from their loved ones. Because of the men and women in uniform who volunteer to defend our liberty, we are able to enjoy the splendor of the American life. We pray for their safety, and for the families who await their return.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 22, 2018, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand eighteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-third.

DONALD J. TRUMP

William Bradford: Thanksgiving Proclamation 1623

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.

-William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony, Thanksgiving proclamation, 1623