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Return to November/December 2005 articles.

When Is a Gift a Challenge?

The cover of our November/December 2005 journal has gift dog in a decorated basket.

When I showed my wife the picture that is on the cover of this issue of our bimonthly, her response was what I expected. Any time my wife sees the picture of a cute animal, she says the same thing — usually something like “Awwwww — I would love to have … .” We have had four dogs and three cats in our nearly half century of marriage, and all of them started with something cute and all of them ended up being a huge challenge. All I have to do now is to remind her of how much work, trouble, damage, and frustration the animal was to her and the “cute wave” passes.

We are presently in the holiday season, and one of the things that has always impressed me is how different Thanksgiving is from Christmas. I view Thanksgiving as an incredible gift. The emphasis at Thanksgiving is not things, and people gather because they like to be together, not because they have to. The focus of Thanksgiving is gratitude and it is a time when we continually are reminded how blessed we are and how we need to appreciate what we have. Religious division and violence is not something that happens during Thanksgiving. No matter what your neighbors are religiously, they can celebrate the blessing of being an American and living in a time when so many things are available to make our lives pleasant. When people get together, they do not have to worry about whether the gift they bring is acceptable or not. Just being together is all anybody asks, and the blessings of life are the focus. Whoever shaped and molded Thanksgiving into the holiday that it is gave us all something special.

Christmas is the antithesis of Thanksgiving. Christmas is pretty much a man-made holiday. There is no biblical instruction to celebrate Christmas or to emphasize the birth of Christ. Because of the human origin of this holiday, it has become so materialized that things are the emphasis of everyone's thinking. Everyone becomes psychotic about their gifts — both the ones that they are to receive and the ones they are giving. “Do you like it?” seems to be the question of the day, and tears frequently flow either from the giver or the recipient if the answer is negative. The denominational world tries to pressure its members to focus on the birth of Christ, but in doing so layers of guilt are imposed, and competition gets complicated as one Christmas program tries to outdo the other. In addition to this, the emphasis on the birth of Christ tends to polarize our pluralistic society and create legal and ethnic belligerence. Lawsuits fly on everything from manger scenes on certain properties to whether schools can sing Christmas carols. In spite of our rhetoric, most of us are relieved when the season is over, and those who are not are usually the ones who did not gain as much financially as they had hoped. This is not to say that as a human holiday this is not a fun time; it is just to say that it is not in the same league as Thanksgiving.

You may wonder why all of this is relevant to our theme of providing evidence that there is a God and that it is the God of the Bible that we should serve. There is, in our view, a very important point to be seen in all of this. Thanksgiving is a season that is very much in accord with the themes and teachings of Jesus Christ. Christians were instructed to make thanksgiving a regular part of their daily thoughts and attitudes. Unlike all other systems of humans, the Thanksgiving of the Christian system was a unity concept — not an ego trip. There was no instruction to be thankful that the Christians were special people, chosen people, or benefitted people. There was no nationalistic, political or ethnic superiority to be thankful for. Christians were instructed to serve others, and the thanksgiving was for the grace of God and the fact that God offered a way for man to return to a positive relationship with Him. This attitude and practice shines through statements like these:

  • This is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow
    ....(2 Corinthians 4:15).
  • You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your
    ....generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (2 Corinthians 9:11).
  • Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving
    ....(Ephesians 5:4).
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving, present your requests to God
    ....(Philippians 4:6).
  • So then, as you received Jesus Christ as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and.overflowing with thanksgiving
    ....(Colossians 2:6-7).
  • Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2).
  • How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have (1 Thessalonians 3:9).
  • And that giving of thanks be made for all men (1 Timothy 2:1).
  • Created to be received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:3-4).

Thanksgiving is a time when the world gets to see just how blessed and how workable the Christian system is. The emphasis is not on giving or buying, but on being thankful and expressing that appreciation to God and to one another. There is no racial or ethnic involvement, and people who may be very distant from the Christian system can see the beauty and the positive spirit that comes from the holiday.

Just as a puppy can be more of a challenge than a gift, so too can the holidays. All holidays, even those of human origin, can be good times. It is our hope that you find positive, thankful people all around you during the holiday and that this season will be one full of the gift of joy and peace and that the holidays will bring no new challenges into your life.

— John N. Clayton

Picture credits:
Pictures in this article: Art Explosion by Nova Development Corporation, © 1997– 2001.

Scripture links/references are from BibleGateway.com.