For just a moment, ponder this year’s calendar. You’ve already noticed, I’m sure, that it is playing tricks on us this time around.
Thanksgiving and the turkey, dragging their heels, showed up way late, which means that Advent (and thus Christmas) are upon us way early. I’ve often complained that the most difficult Sunday of the year to plan and “to preach on” is the usual “dead” Sunday, falling between Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent. You see, your official Thanksgiving sermon was the Sunday before, but on the usual “between the seasons” Sunday, most congregants are totally turkey-stuffed. They have lapsed into a feast-fed stupor, albeit a grateful one. The most committed will probably show up for worship that day but, truth be told, nobody, including the pastor, is terribly excited about the prospect.
Ah, but this year the scene has changed. I’m writing on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. It is also the first day of December and the first Sunday of Advent. Thanksgiving weekend and December have crashed right into each other, a bit of a wreck with ramifications. If you’re a retailer, you’ll have six fewer days to “re-tail” this year. If you are, say, a person who loves to sing Christmas songs for folks during the holiday, well, you’ve got six fewer days to sing Christmas programs (and it’s six days closer to your annual post-Christmas singing depression).
And, yes, if you’re a pastor planning a variety of seasonal church and worship activities, services, sermons, etc., it might be helpful to know that this year when the wise men show up, they probably won’t be bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. More likely they’ll be loaded up with turkey, dressing, and giblet gravy.
You might also look for four of them. The reason we assume that the first wise guys were a trio is not because the Bible says there were three of them; no, it is because Scripture says there were three gifts. We thus assume one gift per guy.
But if that first Christmas had been as close to Thanksgiving as this one, I figure our Christmas cards would be featuring an additional wise fellow, the song would be “We Four Kings,” and one more little guy in a church Christmas pageant would need to borrow his dad’s bathrobe to dress up for the journey down the church aisle to Bethlehem under the star up front. Because? Because I’m betting that somebody’s wise wife would have packed his camel bags with some cranberry sauce as a gift to go along with the other three guys’ tasty offerings. And that makes four. Four gifts. And four wise men.
Anyway, for more than a few folks, it was leftover turkey and dressing for lunch on the very Sunday that we lit the first Advent candle. Merry Thanksgiving!
But maybe this year’s calendar crash is not as much of a clash as I first thought. You see, Thanksgiving reminds me that no matter how hard I’ve worked, the most noteworthy thing about my life is how completely needy and poverty-stricken I am when it comes to saving myself. The blessings I need the most are blessings straight from God, blessings that only he could give, blessings that I could never earn, deserve, or procure myself.
Guess what? Here comes Christmas with much the same lesson, written large: “Get over yourself, pilgrim! The Gift given to save you is God’s Gift, not one you could ever have given or even imagined. You can’t improve it, add to it, or in any way deserve it. You can just accept it.”
Peanut butter and jelly. Turkey and dressing. Joy and thanksgiving. Some things just go together. Odd calendar? Yes. But it comes with a very fine lesson.
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Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.