It had been a tough life for the Samaritan man. His people were already looked down upon in Jewish society, but then came the fateful diagnosis: leprosy. It not only meant a slow death, but also quarantine. Not just rejected, he was now cast out of society entirely.
But then everything changed when the man called Jesus came to town. With his fellow lepers, he cried out to the Master. Jesus not only heard, but He responded. He healed them and sent them to the priests. And, awed at their healing, they rushed away -- all but one.
When he saw he had been healed, the Samaritan immediately rushed back. The man who had faced so much rejection could help himself no longer -- he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and worshipped Him, filled with gratitude. When Jesus saw his thankfulness, He acknowledged the fact that he was the only one who had returned to give thanks. And then He said the most incredible words: "Arise, go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole." (Luke 17:19).
The Samaritan leper's story is such a powerful example of what thankfulness can do in our lives. All of the lepers were healed of leprosy, but the disease had left its impact on them. Their bodies still bore the marks, even though the disease had been cast out. But when the Samaritan's heart overflowed with gratitude, he was made whole. It was more than healing. It was a step beyond. Healing can bring an end to pain, but gratitude has the tremendous power to restore and to make us feel whole, even in the midst of trials.
Sarah Josepha Hale penned her first letter to President Zachary Taylor in 1846. Thus began her seventeen-year quest to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She wrote letters to Presidents Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchannan, but it was not until war split the nation in half that her letter reached the man it had been destined to impact all along.
Abraham Lincoln made the official proclamation in 1863: Thanksgiving would be celebrated every fourth Thursday in November as a national day of
"Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
Lincoln could not have foreseen everything our country would become, but between Halloween and Christmas he created a bridge of gratitude that would transition us into the Christmas season with a thankful attitude. While the war did not end for two more years, the president of a broken country chose to offer thanks before salvation came. While brothers fought brothers and families were ripped apart from painful politics, he saw a need to be thankful.
Even as the nation he loved so dearly seemed broken beyond repair, he chose to be grateful.
And so Thanksgiving comes before Christmas. I love that we celebrate in that order, choosing to see Christmas through the lens of gratitude. Much like pilgrims and Native Americans sat down to forge bonds of brotherhood, so shepherds and kings came together to kneel at the bed of a newborn Child.
And so Thanksgiving and Christmas comingle, each enhancing the other, allowing us to bask in the splendid dance of Gratitude and Grace.
GRATITUDE: Readiness to show appreciation and thankfulness. It is obedience and it draws us closer to God. (I Chronicles 16:34)
REJOICING: Showing joy or delight. (Philippians 4:4)
APPRECIATION: Being grateful or able to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something. (Psalm 69:30)
THANKSGIVING: Expressing thanks to God. (Leviticus 22:29)
INSPIRATIONAL SCRIPTURES: Human authors were influenced by God to write His words. (II Timothy 3:16)
TRUST: Belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, and effective. (Psalm 84:12)
URGENCY: State where something needs immediate attention. We must have an urgency to praise and worship God continually. (II Timothy 4:2)
DEVOTION: Love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person or a cause. (Romans 12:1)
EVERYTHING: In all things, give thanks to our God for His goodness, mercy, and undying love for His creation.