How Can We Enjoy Thanksgiving This Year?
If you asked people what their favorite holiday is, many would say that it is Thanksgiving.
This past week I scoured the scriptures looking for that perfect verse for tonight and I think I found it. It is found in Ecclesiastes 2:24. It says, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.”
This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving and hopefully everyone will be able to say with Solomon, “There is nothing better for a person than that he/she should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.”
We especially hope that those who are laboring the most to make these holidays so special will be able to enjoy the holiday. Sometimes it is harder for those who prepare all of these things to enjoy these times because of all of the work that they had to put into it.
Now, having said all of this, we know that this holiday season will be quite a bit different from all of the other holidays that we have ever celebrated.
Many have had to cancel many of their plans to see family.
Some have had to ask their families not to come to visit them.
Others have had to make the decision that it would be best if they did travel to spend their holidays with their loved ones.
There are many who will be spending this holiday all by themselves.
Having acknowledged all of these things, what is the context in which we ought to consider Solomon’s words?
Is Solomon looking at the vanity of life and concluding that the only joy that is to be expected is that we eat, drink and find some way to enjoy our toil.
Is Solomon, as king, oblivious to the struggles that are common to most men; and as a result, he is ready to party and to live it up.
Or is Solomon looking realistically at life and therefore he finds a better way in which to celebrate even when life is painful, hard and futile.
Let’s briefly consider these three things. First, is Solomon considering all of life and concluding that ‘there is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil’? Has Solomon looked around and resolved that the best we can cope under the present conditions is to eat and drink our sorrows away? Should we take this holiday and eat and drink and reward ourselves in some small way for all of the toil that we have had to go through over the last year?
In other words, is Solomon looking at life and coming to the conclusion that we ought to eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. (1 Cor. 15:32)
Secondly, when Solomon says, “There is nothing better for a person than that he/she should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil”, is he sitting up on his throne in Jerusalem oblivious of all of the pain, toil, hardship and futility that the subjects in his kingdom are experiencing? After all, these are the opening words of this book, ‘The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.’ (Ecclesiastes 1:1)
Is Solomon ready to party while his people are consumed with the burdens of life?
This does not seem to be too unrealistic because of the way that we have seen some of our leaders acting of late. There are many leaders who live by the motto, “Do as I say; do not do as I do.”
Many a King has squandered his rule away through self-indulgence, greed and lust. This is why King Lemuel’s mother pleads with her son in the book of Proverbs, “What are you doing my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing son of my vows? Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” (Proverbs 31:1-5)
Or thirdly, when Solomon speaks these words is he looking realistically at life, seeing its vanity, it’s futility, and the harshness of it all, and letting us know that there is a proper way to celebrate in the midst of all of these struggles?
This is exactly what Solomon is doing. He is not sitting on his throne oblivious to what is going on all around him. This is how he begins this book, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2)
What a way to begin a book, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” (1:2)
Five times in one verse the Preacher uses the word vanity.
He emphasizes this point by saying “Vanity of vanities”.
He double emphasizes this point by saying again, “vanity of vanities!”
And finally, he adds the exclamation point he says, “All is vanity!” (all, every, entire, fully, the whole, without exception)
When Solomon speaks of vanity he is speaking of the lack of real value in all that is seen and done by men under the sun. He is speaking of the hollowness that is in the trunk of a tree even when it appears to be healthy on the outside. All it would take is one strong wind and the entire tree would collapse to the ground. He is speaking of the worthlessness of all of the things that can be achieved in this world. All of these things will soon be forgotten and all that has been built will soon pass away.
Solomon expresses all of this in the next verses. It is in the verses that follow that we discover some of the things that Solomon has been observing and thinking upon. In these verses we see that Solomon is not ready to celebrate because he has failed to see something; but because in seeing the vanity of all of this around him, he has come to see the real real reason one should celebrate. This is what he says in Ecclesiastes 1:3-11,
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
Many have said that Solomon had some sort of mid-life crisis when he sat to write this book; but this goes far beyond a mid-life crisis. These are the words of a man who is having a spiritual crisis. These are the words of a man who is growing in wisdom and knowledge and he is being driven mad by it. Solomon is struggling to know how to relate to all that he sees. He speaks of this when he says,
“I said in my heart, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly, I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18)
Over the last year, we have faced many challenges and they continue to this day.
Even now we are being told that we cannot celebrate with more than ten people. We are being told that we cannot gather together as neighbors and with friends so that we will not spread COVID19. And as a result of all of these things we may not see a reason to celebrate. We, like Solomon, may want to shout out, “Vanity of vanities; vanities of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
Why should we celebrate Thanksgiving this year?
Why should we have any joy this year when things are going the way that they are going?
We have a few ways that we can respond in view of all that is going on.
We can choose not to celebrate with a heart of joy because of all of the things that have been going on.
We can celebrate with a heart that says, ‘Eat and drink today, for tomorrow we may die.’
We can acknowledge all that is going on and choose to respond in a godly way. This is what Solomon chose to do.
Consider what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.”
Solomon looked all around him and saw that with God there is always the possibility for real genuine heartfelt celebration to occur in any circumstance. He says, “This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases Him, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy…”.
We have often heard about all the things that will be missing from around our Thanksgiving Table. Many of us will not get to see our family, friends, and loved ones. Many around us have experienced genuine hardship as a result of COVID19. But this evening has been about reminding us to celebrate with the LORD this year. Invite Him into every moment so that you can have real joy and experience a real sense of celebration even during times such as these.
Solomon would remind us that there is a time for everything.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
In every one of these moments we can find joy when God is present. For all the talk of who will not be present around the table this year we can still invite God to be with us in this moment. We can invite Him to be with our family and friends as they celebrate.
Without the LORD all things are vanity. With him we find true and lasting joy. Even during a time like this. For there is a time to embrace, and there is a time to refrain; but God can be present and participating in all of this with us.