Thanksgiving weekend seems to me to be a door opening onto Christmas.
It marks the end – or close to the end – of the Church Year. And fittingly, it marks the end by giving thanks, expressing gratitude.
In our national thanksgiving this week we as Americans took part in small and large celebrations of gratitude. We considered those who first gave thanks for their freedoms in this foreign land. Those pilgrims gave thanks to God, a God of grace, and today, many of us still believe in a God to whom we may render thanks. Those not believing in God, I suppose, give thanks to a vague sense of fortune or luck or destiny, carrying the grace of gratitude in their hearts without an object for that gratitude, as though their grateful feelings linger in the air, lost.
Grace, gratitude. From the Latin root gratia, favor, kindness, esteem. We feel favored, gifted, loved, and we respond with thanksgiving. We say grace at meals, thanking God for our food, and we pray for God’s grace in our lives, asking for his favor.
Christians have long associated action with grace, as though God could fill us and cover us with himself. He could shelter us. He could live inside us. We could be imbued with him.
And so it is fitting, that this door of Thanksgiving weekend opens onto the season of Advent, the preparation for the Incarnation at Christmas, God’s ultimate gift of grace to us.
My bishop often says to me, “All is grace.” These are powerful words. They are hopeful words. These words say that, in the end, God wins. In the end, God will act throughout our world and throughout our history, pulling all of us together.
The Gospel today, the Sunday next before Advent, described the feeding of the five thousand in John 6. Our Lord Jesus multiplies five loaves and two fish to provide enough to feed everyone with some left over. Our preacher commented profoundly on what happens after this miracle. Jesus says to gather up the fragments so that nothing be lost.
These also are powerful words, hopeful words. This gathering is the action of grace – for we as Christians, are imbued with God through Baptism and the sacraments. We are the fragments scattered throughout the world that will be gathered up. And not one of us, in time or space, will be lost. It is God’s economy of love.
There are echoes here of the good shepherd searching for the single lost sheep. The shepherd knows his own and the sheep know him. And the shepherd is the door to the sheepfold.
All is grace.
We enter the season of Advent. We are grateful for grace. At every Eucharist (from the Greek for thanksgiving) we offer our thanksgiving in the great action of the Mass. We offer and we receive back a hundred-fold. We unite with Christ so that one day we will know his voice, and he will gather us together from every corner of the earth.
And we too must gather. We must gather up the lost, bind the wounded, clothe the naked, feed the hungry. We gather and are gathered. We feed upon God and are fed by him. We give thanks as we walk through the door that has now swung open, as we step into the mysterious and marvelous season of Christmas.