Thanksgiving in 2020?

You’ve heard the jokes about 2020. But it has been a rough year for very many. Can we really give thanks? Listen to Psalm 75.

Thank God that his name is near. Thank God, even in adversity. A good deal of conflict lies in the background as you read this Psalm. Perhaps you struggle to find reasons for thanksgiving. But the reaction of the Psalmist is—to thank God. It begins with corporate thanksgiving, and at the end a grateful individual speaks for the people. The Holy Spirit included it in the Scriptures for you and me to use as well.

Your God is a God who is near. God’s name, of course, is not simply an identifier. It brings to mind God’s character—all that he is. Genesis 4:26 describes early corporate worship: “In those days men began to call on the name of the Lord.” God is near. He is not at a distance. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their idol was on a journey, and out of earshot—so shout louder! Elijah’s God is near enough that the prophets quiet prayer was heard, and fire fell from heaven and consumed the sacrifice and the altar. How near has God come to you? Luke 1 recounts Gabriel telling Mary that the Son she would bear would also be the Son of God. The incarnation means that your God is never out of earshot. “God is at hand to answer and do wonders — adore we then the present Deity. We sing not of a hidden God, who sleeps and leaves the church to her fate, but of one who ever in our darkest days is most near, a very present help in trouble. ‘Near is his name.’ Baal is on a journey, but Jehovah dwells in his church. Glory be unto the Lord, whose perpetual deeds of grace and majesty are the sure tokens of his being with us always, even unto the ends of the world.” (Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, on Psalm 75:1).

Thank God that he is the righteous Judge. Give thanks in the face of chaos. Psalm 74:22 asks God to appear to defend his cause and his people. Psalm 75 appropriately presents the God who comes at the time of his choosing, and who judges with equity. We live in times that are challenging for God’s people. Pressures to compromise, to not only respect, but to support the current politically correct fad, regardless of what God’s Word days, confront the church as an institution as well as individual believers. It may seem as though our society is crumbling, but when everything is shaking, God upholds the pillars. He not only protects his church, but for the sake of his people shows grace to the entire creation.

The righteous Judge brings down and exalts. We may look at political, economic, and military factors—but behind the rise of some and the fall of others lies the God who controls all things. “Here are the thanks that are prompted by memory, and memories by ‘recital’; that is, by a re-telling of the great things God has done (cf. 78:4; Dt. 31:10ff.). This is still an indispensable part of worship: cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26…. Joy in God’s great reversals, His ‘putting down one and lifting up another’ (7), is a note which this Psalm shares especially with the Magnificat and the Song of Hannah.” (Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 270).

We think of Hannah’s prayer as pouring out her personal grief at the hands of Peninnah. It was that, but it was also more. Mary’s song as she sees Elizabeth is a very personal poem as she pours out her heart to a woman who has some understanding of the wonder of what Gabriel had told her. But both women also lived in times when wickedness seemed to flourish and God’s people were suffering. The Psalmist, like them, writing after the one and long before the other, shares a similar perspective. And that gives you hope.

Judgment is coming. How can a Christian endure unjust suffering? How can you deal with it and reflect the character of your Lord who suffered without reviling? How were the suffering saints of Revelation able to endure? You know that the Judge is coming. If not in this age, at least at the final judgment, the Lord makes his foes drink to the dregs the cup of his holy anger against their rebellion. The last verse of the Psalm has God cutting off the horns of the wicked. Their power is broken. We know who wins! Because of that, you can rejoice.

Sing praise to the God of Jacob! Praise God for his covenantal faithfulness. This name recalls God’s presence. This is the God who appeared to Jacob as he camped at a place he would call Bethel, a God who has a ladder with his angelic messengers ascending and descending. This is the God who makes his covenant promise to Jacob and his descendants, and who remains forever faithful. Regardless of prosperity or adversity, the faithfulness of you God gives you reason for thanksgiving and praise.

Tell of who God is. Psalm 75:1c and 9 lead you in a recital of the deeds of God. Praise him by telling back to him what he has done. And telling of what God has done continues into the New Testament. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 tells again what Christ did on the night of his betrayal. As he summarizes his gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul recounts what he had received, and then passed on to them. As you worship you encourage one another as you describe what God has done. And as you tell it to those outside the church you take part in expanding his kingdom.

God has given you blessings for which you must thank him. But above all, he has made his name come near to you as he sent his Son to redeem you. You cannot keep quiet about that!

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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