As we approach Thanksgiving next week, the holiday will look unlike anything most of us have ever encountered. For the first time in my lifetime, we have elected public officials strongly discouraging family gatherings to celebrate Thanksgiving. At this point, it is likely we’ll hear the same thing next month as we approach Christmas.
In New Mexico, we are currently under “shelter-in-place” orders, with all but essential businesses unable to operate until Monday, Nov. 30 (Thankfully, churches can meet at 25% capacity, or with 75 people in attendance, whichever is smaller). We are being actively discouraged from meeting with people outside of our own households, including extended family. Suffice it so say that Thanksgiving for many of us around the country is going to look very different from “normal.”
So, pastor, how do you approach Thanksgiving when many of your people may still feel uncomfortable gathering with a group of people, even in church? How can you encourage people who have already had a rough year to remain thankful even when they realize the kids and grandkids won’t be coming home for the holidays?
How can you fight off the holiday humdrums that seem to affect so many people this time of year?
Remind yourself – and your people – to count your blessings.
I know this sounds cliché, but this year it may be more important than ever to take stock of the blessings God has given us. Given the enormous health challenges the entire world has faced this year, it might be a good thing to remind your people (and yourself), that to just be alive is a blessing. The fact that we live in a world with technology like Zoom and Facetime is pretty amazing and has been a huge blessing over the past year (as sick as we are of only seeing people from the neck up on screen)! Be thankful for the neighbors and family God has blessed you with. Indeed, God has been good to us!
Remind yourself – and your people – that this is only temporary.
One of the things I’ve repeated to my children over the past eight months is that it won’t be like this forever. I firmly believe we eventually will get back to some semblance of “normal.” Much like after 9/11, there may be a “new normal,” but eventually we will settle into a new routine. And, at this point at least, I still think we aren’t looking at masks and social distancing as permanent fixtures in our society. There are great hopes of a vaccine and effective treatments that look like they’re coming in 2021. So, pastor, hang on and encourage your people to hang on. While you might stop short of making hard and fast statements about what “normal” might look like, you still can remind your folks that so much of what we’re seeing right now is temporary – even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Remind yourself – and your people – of the gospel.
Finally (and most importantly), preach the gospel to yourself and the people you are called to shepherd. The gospel is called “good news” for a reason. And it becomes really, really good news when we see the brokenness of the world around us. The gospel reminds us that, even if everything else goes away, we have been immensely blessed simply by the fact that God Almighty loved us enough to send His Only Son to pay the penalty of our sins and reconcile us to Himself. What greater hope is there than that message? And, I dare say that this Thanksgiving and Christmas season, people are going to be looking for real, lasting hope. As pastors and minister of the gospel, we deal in hope.
So, pastors, as we approach a very unusual – even unprecedented – Thanksgiving, don’t forget to remind your folks – and yourself – to trust in Christ. And don’t forget to check in on those for whom this may be an especially difficult Thanksgiving (and I’m not just talking about Cowboys’ fans).
God bless you, and from all of us on the Replant Team, have a very Happy Thanksgiving!
Published November 18, 2020