When you arrive in the land I am giving you and you harvest your first crops, bring the priest some grain from the first portion of your grain harvest. On the first day after the Sabbath, the priest will lift it up before the Lord so it may be accepted on your behalf. … This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed wherever you live. —Leviticus 23:9-11, 14 (NLT)
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. —Cicero, Pro Plancio, 54 B.C.
As our skepticism about God has increased, the world has grown smaller. What I mean is that our imagination no longer thinks to visit that jeweled city with streets of gold where a glorious being lives, attended by hosts of angels. We have put aside such childishness. We are no longer awed by the one who created somethingness from nothingness, life from dust, hot consciousness from the cold void of space. We know better.
By writing God out of the narrative of life, the narrative itself has withered like a tree deprived of water. We now have a story without a plot, a song with no melody. Life without the awesome majesty of God the Everlasting is lackluster and pointless.
King David the Psalmist, in one of his many effusive moments, wrote:
Open up, ancient gates!
Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—he is the King of glory. —Psalm 24:9-10, NLT
The word “glory” has all but vanished from our modern vocabulary, and we are diminished by its loss.
In Psalm 24, David captures the central narrative that is woven through both the Old and New Testaments — the glorious and eternal God has stepped through the ancient gates of the city of man. God has made himself approachable. The glory of God has touched humanity.
You only need to open the newspaper to see that we are not a particularly glorious species. We are selfish, we are vengeful, we are hateful and proud and petty. Glorious? Not by a long shot.
Except in the presence of God. Except through the action of God’s grace in us.
When God steps into our presence, his glory bathes us like the sun lights up the moon. We have no beauty, no art, no genius, no goodness that we can claim for our own.
If we have the wisdom to recognize our profound neediness and the humility to accept the staggering generosity of God, we will be driven inevitably to gratitude.
That is the story behind the first-fruits offering in Leviticus. It was a festival meant to educate God’s people in gratitude. It reveals the presence of the King of Glory in the smallest details of our lives, a festival that reminds us annually of the unbreakable connection between a magnanimous God and everything that sustains us: food, shelter, clothing, warmth, human companionship, love.
We are in the season of thanksgiving.
These days are not intended as a launching pad to our pre-Christmas shopping. This is not a celebration of autumn or some national obsession with turkey and cranberry jelly.
Thanksgiving is about gratitude. Thanksgiving is about recognizing the glorious presence of God in everyday life. Thanksgiving is about stopping to kneel before the Source of all that is good, to express our gratitude.
If Cicero was right, that gratitude is the parent of every other virtue, we would be wise to search our hearts and ask: Am I grateful? And if so, to whom?
Open up your ancient doors and welcome the King of Glory. Come into his presence and express your gratitude for his good gifts.
This is the season of thanksgiving.
(Photo credit: Eric Enstrom’s Grace)