I used the picture at left to grab your attention. This is a picture of chicken feet and greens I had for lunch about 6 months ago in Africa. At the risk of being tuned out like Charlie Brown’s “wah-wah” voiced teacher, I will state the obvious. Being a thankful person, a person of gratitude is healthy—and not just yesterday (Thanksgiving) as if that is the one-shot inoculation that will carry one through 364 more days. At least the ancient Hebrews celebrated their Fall harvest festival (the basis for our Thanksgiving is the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths or Sukkot) for an entire week.
The Feast of Tabernacles is a wonderful example of God’s goodness celebrated with thanksgiving by His people. The rabbis interestingly proclaimed it as the most holy of the various feasts and holy days of Israel. Yes, it was designated as holier than Passover or even Yom Kippur. Notice I didn’t say more solemn—I said holier. This is what is interesting. The holiest of all the times designated by YHWH to be kept annually is a 7 day thanksgiving feast. It is a time to remember that the Hebrews once wandered in the desert as sojourners living in tents—hence the tabernacles/booths designation. But during that whole time, YHWH provided for his people by keeping them clothed, fed, and protected until they could enter the Promised Land. But that is not the main point. It is about presence. Look at the last line (verse 4b) of the Psalm above “…seek his presence continually.”
The Hebrews being sojourners reminds me of something Paul wrote to the Corinthians. After listing types of people that will not inherit the kingdom of God in the preceding verses: sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy, drunkards, swindlers, and so on—he says in 6:11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” We may not have wandered in the literal desert for years, but some of us know what it was like to wander in a spiritual desert, which makes us all the more thankful and gives us all the more reason to say that a party celebrating that even in the desert, God preserved us … but now… we are washed, sanctified, and justified.
The Jewish master rabbi Hillel said about tabernacles “If I Am is here… all are here. If I Am is not here, then none are here.” God created us to be in relationship—with each other and with Him. Thus, it is only relationship—nothing else—that is cause for celebration. As “Black Friday” attempts to lure us into the idolatry of substituting things for relationships, remember what each of us already knows by experience: That new car after 2 weeks … that new house … that new TV … they don’t satisfy. What satisfies is the greatest expression of holiness—feasting with others as God himself is in the middle of the party and the very reason for the party. Do I love eating chicken feet soup? Not so much. But I loved that meal because I Am was there and so were hundreds of my African brothers and sisters made in I Am's image. It was about presence.