Aboard the U.S.S. Rehoboth F.P.O. New York, N.Y.
Thanksgiving Day! A national holiday that has been celebrated for years, and means nothing more to the world than a twenty-four hour vacation, but what a wonderful day it is for the child of God. It is the one special day that we set aside each year for the sole purpose of giving thanks to our Lord for the many blessings that He has bestowed upon us throughout that year.
In many ways it is a dangerous day! It is so easy to use just this one day each year to express our thanks to God, just as so many “Christians”, even in our own churches, set aside one day each week to worship God and go complacently about their own sinful way for the rest of the week. When all our thoughts and actions should be directed to the glory of God, we so easily lead ourselves along the road that requires special days of service. This of course is the road that leads to destruction.
But of course, to the Christian, Thanksgiving Day is just the culmination of a year of service and praise. It is the one day that he sets aside to ponder on the bountiful blessings that God has bestowed on him—blessings in nature and in grace. And that is not the end of the Christian’s thankfulness by any means. It is only the beginning, for in the year that follows he will strive all the more to serve not only his Lord and to be a living witness for Him in the midst of the world; not only on Sunday or Thanksgiving or Christmas, but every day of his life.
But of ourselves this is so difficult to do, is it not? We so easily forget the sermon that we have just heard in church. We so easily forget all that has been taught to us in our catechism classes. In a matter of minutes after we have heard the truth, we are walking in the way of the world. All that has been taught us from our youth on up, is pushed to the background.
And may I say here that I think that this is especially true of the Christian serviceman— especially during the first few months in the service. Many of you may not think that this is true. It may seem strange to you that after having been brought up in a Christian home and after having attended Christian schools, that a young man upon entering the service, finds himself walking arm in arm with the world; but nevertheless from what I have seen and also experienced, I am sure that this is true.
And what may be the cause for this, you may ask? The reason for this is relatively simple. For years his whole social and religious life was centered within the realm of covenant children of God. From childhood he was accustomed to devotions at every meal, weekly attendance at church and regular instruction in the truths of Scripture. During that time it was not as easy to be led astray by every little lure of the devil, due to the fact that his parents were always there to admonish and instruct him and even his friends had a strong influence on him.
Suddenly there is an end to all this. Without warning he is torn out of his Christian element and cast into the midst of the world—often times alone, without even a Christian friend as an ally against Satan and his many temptations.
But no, we cannot say that he is alone, for the Lord is on his side with the Holy Spirit to strengthen him through the perils ahead. And thanks be to God that in this time of dire need, we see that all the religious instruction that he received at home was not in vain and for his condemnation, but that through the preaching of the Word, God so worked in his heart the glorious work of salvation. Now, through the grace of God, he can shout in the midst of the world that Christ is his Savior. Even though the going may be rough and he may slip and fall many times, he knows the paths of righteousness through the bountiful instructions he received at home, and through the grace of God is brought back to walk in those glorious paths. How thankful he must be!
And now as the November issue of the Beacon Lights is about to be published and Thanksgiving Day is foremost in our minds, the thought arises, “What are a serviceman’s thoughts on Thanksgiving?” What does the serviceman have to be thankful for? Are his ideas altered by the fact that he is away from home and friends, perhaps on the battle front, separated from all religious instruction?
I think that I can be safe in saying that as the Christian serviceman concentrates on Thanksgiving Day, nothing means as much to him as the great religious heritage that he has left behind and the wonderful salvation that is his in Christ. To the child of God it makes no difference where he is or in what circumstances he finds himself, because all that he does should be for the glory and praise of his Maker. And so whether he is at home or in the service, either in training or on the battlefront, his whole life must be dedicated to the praise and honor of his Lord. And we as Christians have so much to be thankful for, do we not? Through the past year we have experienced so many blessings that it is impossible to begin enumerating them. Even the very words with which we utter our thanks are from God. Nothing that we have is of ourselves.
But even though the Christian serviceman and his covenant friends back home experience the same joys in the celebration of Thanksgiving Day, some of the gracious gifts that God has given to him are appreciated so much more than when he was at home. Of course this should not be so, but nevertheless it is. Isn’t it always true that we never really appreciate anything until it is taken away from us?
And that is also true of the many blessings that God has given to us. In our daily life we are surrounded by gifts on all sides and we take them for granted. If we have a little less than our neighbor, we are prone to complain. But then comes a time in our life when we are separated from many of the good things that we have become accustomed to. It is then that we realize how greatly we have been blessed, and also how unworthy and ungrateful we are.
This is the situation that the serviceman finds himself in, and I am not thinking here of material but of spiritual blessings; and as I mentioned before, primarily of the rich religious realm that he has left behind and the glorious salvation that is his in Christ. We as Protestant Reformed youth are blessed as none others are, in that from the cradle on, we are under the preaching of the Word in its purest form. And this is nothing to be boastful about, but should only humble us, for even though we are so richly blessed, we show our ungratefulness through our constant sinning.
One can never realize just how much it means to be able to meet with the children of God in church on Sunday to listen to the Truth proclaimed by a minister of God, and to meet in the societies during the week to discuss the glorious Gospel. And it is here that the serviceman finds comfort in the fact that even though he did not appreciate the many blessings that he had while he was at home, now that he is away he begins to understand just a little, how richly God has blessed him through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. It is during his absence from these blessings, when he is surrounded by the world, that he begins to realize what all the teachings and instructions which have been given to him really mean.
It is during this period that the fruit which the Word of God bears through the Christian blossoms forth in its glory. Not that this fruit was not noticeable when he was at home, for the Word of God never returns void, but as the Christian comes in constant contact with the world, this fruit stands out as a flower in the desert. Now do not get the impression that a Christian becomes a saint by being in the service, for this is not true by any means. As I mentioned before, it is very difficult to walk in the way of our Lord when we are separated from the church, and many times it is difficult to distinguish between the Christian serviceman and the world. But when our Father takes us in this low state of our depravity and through grace leads us in the way of salvation, we see how merciful and gracious He is to us, unworthy though we be.
So friends, on this Thanksgiving Day, whether at home or away, let us not only contemplate on our material blessings, but let us look toward the things that are spiritual. Let us give thanks to our Heavenly Father for the great privilege that we have, in that from childhood on, we can be under the pure preaching of His Word. Let us rejoice in our salvation!
And may that word not be for our condemnation, but may it bear fruits unto salvation, and when we go out into the midst of the world, may we be shining lights in the midst of darkness, so that it may not only be said of us, but that it may be seen of us that we are covenant children of God.