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Anno Domini: Giving thanks for what matters
November 25, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
Thankfulness. It’s something we often give lip service, but something that’s harder to put into practice. But it’s essential we do it.

Most parents insist their children learn at an early age to say “thank you.” It’s always appropriate, no matter what your age. That’s because thankfulness is a fundamental expression of our humanity.

“In everything give thanks” is something that’s been encouraged throughout civilization, from David the Psalmist to Paul the Apostle and beyond. Sure, it’s a challenge to maintain our thankfulness, especially when things aren’t going in our favor. How can we count our blessings when hardship and uncertainty are our new best friends?

The answer’s found throughout our own history. The first occasion was in the early 1600s when a small group of Calvinistic Protestants, called Puritans, fled the persecution of the state church of their native land of England. Their first stop was in Leyden, Holland, where they didn’t fare much better. They were barely surviving, but they were free.
However, the corrupt secular culture was tempting their children away from the faith.

So in 1620, these Pilgrims, for the sake of their children, drew up a very dangerous plan that would take them across a wild ocean to a land they had never seen. They knew it was a one-way trip.

The first brutal New England winter took its toll on those strangers.
Almost half of their company died of disease or exposure. But a year later, the survivors gave thanks to God for allowing them to establish a new plantation, based on religious freedom and self-government. With that celebration in 1621, they marked our first observance of Thanksgiving, although it’s wouldn’t become official until much later.

John Geree, one of the surviving Pilgrims, wrote the colony’s motto was “Vincit qui patitur” – Latin for “He who suffers, conquers.” The Pilgrims saw all of life as a test of their faithfulness to the God who had blessed them so richly.

Throughout our history, our capacity for thankfulness in suffering has been sorely tested. It was a time of suffering that led to our first official national observance of Thanksgiving.

The colonies declared their independence on July 4, 1776, but for much of 1777, our fledgling nation was suffering. The British gained control of New York and took over the American stronghold at Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain in July.

Little more than a month later, on September 11, 200 of General Washington’s troops were killed, 500 wounded and another 400 captured in Pennsylvania at the Battle of Brandywine. And on September 22, another 300 were killed or wounded and 100 captured in a British surprise attack that became known as the Paoli Massacre.

On September 26, the British captured the new nation’s largest city, Philadelphia. The Continental Congress was meeting there at the time and members had to beat a hasty retreat through Lancaster and on to York, a hundred miles to the west.

One of the delegates would later become our second president. After the flight to York, John Adams wrote in his diary “The prospect is chilling on every side … gloomy, dark, melancholy and dispiriting.”

His cousin, Samuel Adams, who is sometimes called the Father of the Revolution, and also the Last Puritan, was more optimistic. Speaking to his fellow delegates, he said “We shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we act worthy of its aid and protection.”

An aside from Jerry: Adams’ words are still applicable today – and one of the big reasons for the contemporary mess we’re in.

Samuel Adams was right on this one. On Oct. 31, 1777, word arrived that General Horatio Gates and the Continental Army has accepted the surrender of 5,800 British troop in the Battle of Saratoga. The victory also won the new army 27 pieces of artillery, and thousands of pieces of small arms and ammunition.

The next day, on Nov. 1, 1777, the Continental Congress issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation. The 360-word document was written by Samuel Adams and it started with the reason for the day: “Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received …”

A month later, on Dec. 17, General George Washington issued general orders to the chaplains and all the troops to observe the following day with divine services of thanksgiving for divine blessings received.

Our new nation might not have realized it at the time, but the victory at Saratoga was a turning point. It brought the French into an alliance with the Americans, changing the tide of the war. It was the French naval blockade of the harbor at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781 that would help America win its independence.

From the time of the Pilgrims, on to the Founding Fathers and into the future, the true legacy they left is character. Our forebears knew their best character was brought out by their reaction to living in the shadow of adversity. That reaction was to give thanks to the one who President Washington called “the Great Lord and Ruler of Nations.”

On this Thanksgiving Day, many parts of the world are in turmoil again – and the chaos could come to America at any time. So we should remember the example of those who have gone before. Giving thanks helps create the character that in turn cultivates the perseverance needed to secure the blessings of liberty. All it will take is a return to America’s first principles.

I couldn’t agree more with Samuel Adams: “Go on, then, in your generous enterprise with gratitude to Heaven for past success, and confidence of it in the future. For my own part, I ask no greater blessing than to share with you the common danger and common glory … that these American States may never cease to be free and independent.”

Thank you for reading, and have a blessed Thanksgiving.
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