“Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and vine give their full yield. Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.”(Joel 2:21-27)

Judah’s Hopeful Future

What have we to be thankful? That might have been a thought the people of Judah had during the time of the prophet Joel. Scholars debate about exactly when this book was written, but based upon several factors, many believe the prophet Joel wrote this book sometime around the 6th century B.C., over 500 years before the birth of Christ. If so, this was a turbulent time for the Jews. Their kingdom had fallen, a foreign nation had invaded, and most of the people had been exiled to a foreign land. It was a very difficult time.

The Jews had experienced God’s judgement for their rebellion and sin, but they were repentant and had hope of being restored. God promised abundance and protection where He would dwell in the midst of His people. God promised that His Spirit would be poured out on all people, a promise fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. Joel prophesied the “Day of the Lord” as a time when God will bring judgment on sin, but also deliverance and blessing for His people. That would be a time of salvation for God’s people where “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32) It was a difficult time, but it was also a time of praise and thanksgiving.

God said, “Fear not. Be glad and rejoice!” That is a refrain we read in this passage from the prophet Joel. Fear not. Be glad and rejoice. There is a cause for praise – a cause for thanksgiving. Pastures are green. Trees bear fruit. Vines give their full yield. This abundance should lead the people to praise. The children of God ought to be glad and rejoice. God had poured down on them abundant rain. It was a time of praise and thanksgiving.

America’s Thankful Beginnings

Let’s skip over two thousand years to another group of people, in a different situation, in a different land. In 1620 A.D., a group of pilgrims voyaged across the Atlantic to a new home through frequently stormy seas. Though they planned to go to what is now Virginia, they ended up in present day New England. The season was late and supplies of food and water were low, so they could go no further. The colonists endured the hardships of the winter in a foreign land with hostile people surrounding them. However, neighboring Native American Indians donated food to the fledgling colony during their first winter. In early autumn of 1621, the fifty-three surviving Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest, as was the English custom. This event is commonly called the “First Thanksgiving.” Even in the midst of trouble and hardship, there was hope and a reason for thanksgiving.

Let’s fast-forward one hundred and fifty years. America is a very different place than what the Pilgrims had experienced. The colonies are at war with its mother country, England. It was during the American Revolutionary War that the Continental Congress appointed one or more thanksgiving days each year. The first one was given in 1777 from a temporary location in York, Pennsylvania, while the British occupied the national capital in Philadelphia. That proclamation called for a day of “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise..that it may please God through the Merits of Jesus Christ…that it may please [God] graciously to afford His Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively.”

Afterwards, several presidents in the early years of the American nation, beginning with George Washington, issued Thanksgiving proclamations. In the middle of another war, the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. The United States has observed Thanksgiving annually ever since. In the midst of hardship and war, the American people have given thanks to Almighty God for His blessings and providence recognizing the need for divine favor.

The Church’s Better Days

So, here we are now, God’s people united in fellowship with Jesus Christ and we, too, can and should give thanks to our Father in Heaven. Just as God told the people of Judah, “Fear not, be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!,” so we can say, “Fear not, be glad and rejoice.” God has indeed done great things and He is still doing great things. The prophet Joel tells us of a great reason to rejoice, for salvation is offered to all peoples. As Joel wrote, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32) That promise is available today. We have much for which to be thankful. Though times may be tough and hardship comes our way, we can trust in the promises of God, for He will never leave or forsake His people. Let’s be glad and rejoice and go forward as the people of God fulfilling the great mission of the church. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!

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