how to be thankful at the end of the world (or, reflections on Thanksgiving and Advent)
Christ the King Sunday, which we just celebrated a few days ago, signals the impending end of the liturgical year. The fast-approaching first Sunday of Advent bears the new year for the church. And of course, tomorrow our country celebrates Thanksgiving. In this matrix of holiday celebration, my question is this: How can we be thankful at the end of the world?
You see, the conclusion of the liturgical year signals not a cycle of sun, but the end of time as we know it. The Reign of Christ for which we pray and hope on Christ the King anticipates the fullness of God's Kingdom, the presence of the new heaven and the new earth, that day when every knee bows and tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. The last few days of the church year look forward not just to Christ's return, but to the eternity of glory creation will spend with her creator.
This means not just a welcome embrace of the newness brought by Jesus, but a recognition that the world as we know it is ending. In light of continued terror attacks across the world, where illnesses like cancer plague our bodies and depression assaults our minds, a new heaven and new earth sounds like everything we could ask for. While enticing at first glance, the end of this world also means the end of certain things we hold dear. The end of this world means the end of communism and capitalism, the end of nationalism and anarchism, the end of hunger and gluttony, of loneliness and codependency, of all idols in our lives that challenge the reign of Christ.
That's the complex nature of this holiday collision. How can we be thankful in a world that we pray will one day end and give way to the newness and fullness of God? How can we be thankful for the end of that world when it's passing will remove not only the things that we hate but the things that we love too much, the things that we make into idols and assume are saviors when, in fact, they too remain subject to Christ's reign?
We may, first, give thanks for temporary blessings, for those things that we love and yet know they will give way to something different, something greater. I give thanks for the home I live in now, knowing that I won't live there forever. I give thanks for things like my time at Orrville High School, Ashland University, Duke Divinity School, and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, knowing that each of those settings were a profound blessing and definitely temporary. Much of what we love in our lives is temporary. The danger we face is assuming that good things must last forever.
This world is not meant to last forever, and knowing that can help us to more deeply and more appropriately appreciate the gifts of this world. We can recognize the good intentions behind capitalism and communism while readily admitting the problematic issues behind both systems. We can admit and embrace the good intents behind our countries even as we admit and critique the imperfections we face. We can appropriately value things like food and relationship and life without making an idol out of any of them.
The coming of Advent signals that we have much to give thanks for now, because these good things reflect the light of the coming kingdom, of the Son who rises to reign for all eternity. So, on Thanksgiving Day, and at all times, give thanks for the good God has given you. At the same time, remember those things are gifts of God and not gods themselves.
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Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.