Tuning up Your Thanksgiving
The other holidays got all the good songs.
Christmas has the best, of course. It’s hard to beat “Joy to the World,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” or “O Come All Ye Faithful” (sorry, “Little Drummer Boy” doesn’t count). Even Easter has “He Arose,” and “Jesus Paid it All,” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” to get us in the spirit of celebration.
Not Thanksgiving. The fourth Thursday in November isn’t quite as musically-inclined as the older, more internationally-known holidays. Maybe that’s because it’s a uniquely American holiday (I hear, you Canada…), or maybe it’s because our mouths are too filled with turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie to sing effectively. But it’s true. All those other holidays have decent soundtracks, but Thanksgiving gets stuck with “Over the River and through The Wood” — and that’s only if some eager beaver hasn’t broken time-honored tradition and begun playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving.
The horse may indeed know the way to carry the sleigh, but we Christians don’t have to settle for a songless Thanksgiving Day. After all, we have a whole book of songs, many of which focus on gratitude. And one in particular that might help us tune up our Thanksgiving Day is Psalm 100:
A Psalm for giving thanks.
 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
 Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
 Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
 For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100, ESV)
This self-titled thanksgiving song provides us with some healthy parameters for the practice of giving thanks. The psalmist gives us four imperatives to shape this practice.
The first involves making noise: make a joyful noise to the Lord. Now there is already plenty of noise in the world. But much of the noise we experience is far from joyful. The blaring of cable news, the sounds of traffic, the rattles of construction, and the elevated volume of TV commercials are all examples of the bad kind, and I’m sure you can think of many more. These are not the noises which all the earth is directed to make. Joyful noises are noises that can’t be contained — noises that overflow from what’s inside: the giggle of a child who can’t stop laughing, the ping of a bouncing basketball, the familiar, safe voice of a loved one, and singing (whether good or bad) from a heart that’s been transformed by grace. Joy shouldn’t be kept quiet. Joy is audible, meant for sharing.
The second directive the psalmist gives is service: serve the Lord with gladness. Vocalized joy makes noise, but it doesn’t merely make noise — it serves. Our thanksgiving is not just heard, it’s shown by our actions. Service to the Lord isn’t a dour burden, it’s something that makes our heart glad. And that service goes hand in hand with singing in the Lord’s presence.
The next directive is to know: know that the Lord is God. And the knowledge spoken of here is not passive. A knowledge that the Lord is God — that he made us, that he owns us — is a knowledge that moves us. We cannot know this to be true and be unmoved. And this knowledge of him leads us to a greater knowledge of ourselves. Knowing the Lord helps us know that we belong to him, and our place is with him.
And to where does this knowledge of the Lord move us? The psalmist directs us to enter the Lord’s gates. It is here, recognizing that we are in the presence of the Lord who made the world, who made us, and who owns us. It’s here that our only response can be thanksgiving and praise.
Far too often, when we’re thinking what we’re thankful for, we look to ourselves — what we have, where we’ve been. And those are all good things of which to take stock. But true thanksgiving flourishes when we take our eyes off ourselves and direct them toward the Lord. We can give thanks because he is still good — even when we are not. We can give thanks because his kindness endures forever — even when ours runs out of steam. We can give thanks because his faithfulness keeps going — even when our faith struggles.
We may not have much in ourselves to be thankful for, but that’s the point. We only scratch the surface when we enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving. So tune up your Thanksgiving this year with the 100th Psalm. On or off key, we’d all do well to sing it this holiday.
Jared Bridges is editor-in-chief of The Washington Stand.