For the Thanksgiving holiday, I want to focus on Deuteronomy 8:1-10.
The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy takes place right before the people of Israel are to enter into the land of Canaan. They had previously been held captive in Egypt, without a land of their own, living as strangers in a strange land. But, the Lord redeemed them from their slavery and brought them up out of Egypt. He promised them that they would inherit the land He had first promised to Abraham so many hundreds of years before. This was a land that Abraham never possessed, except for a small plot of land with a cave that he had purchased to serve as a grave site for himself and his descendants. Abraham had bought this cave as a burial site while trusting that one day the Lord would give his descendants all of the land in which the site lay.
And now in Deuteronomy, this day has finally come when the people of Israel are being brought by the Lord into this promised land to possess it as their inheritance. And this land is a good land. It is full of water, fountains, and springs; filled with wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olive trees, and honey. A land full of useful minerals and abundant in food. When the people of Israel enter into this promised land it will be quite a contrast to the existence they had known in the desert after they came out of Egypt. For in the desert they ate manna and quail, which, although provided by God, are no match for the many blessings of the promised land.
Our forefathers who first came to this continent must have been filled with similar wonder at the blessings of America. It too was a land flowing with water and all types of trees and animals. They left homelands where they could not worship and live the way they wished in order to come to a land where they were free and food was plentiful. All that they had known in their homelands was no match for the blessings of this land.
So, each year, we especially remember the blessings that the Lord has provided for us in this land, even as we give thanksgiving to the Lord every day throughout the year for all that He has done and is doing for us. The Thanksgiving holiday is a special time to recount the blessings of this land that the Lord has given us. For the most part, we are able to live peaceable and quiet lives without want. We have families, friends, food, shelter, stable government, liberty, and other good blessings of God.
A lot of the world does not have these blessings. There are places in the world where most of the population is starving, where there is no stable or honest government, where people live in shanty towns of corrugated metal and cardboard, where crime is rampant, and where liberty is not even a dream, because the people are too poor and hungry to even think of it.
So, we in this land have been greatly blessed and we give thanks to the Lord for the blessings He has bestowed upon us. We in God’s Right Hand Realm of the Church can give thanksgiving for the blessings that He has bestowed upon us in His Left Hand Realm of civil authority. We are witnesses to the fact that stable civil government and authority in the Left Hand Realm is a blessing to God’s creation.
But, even as great as this land is and as great as God has blessed us here, this land is not the “promised land,” and America is not God’s people Israel. The promised land is yet to come, and the people Israel – the Church – are yet to enter into it. We are still, in a sense, in the wilderness, being fed by the manna and quail provided by God. You see, Israel is the people of God, redeemed from captivity, and brought through the desert into the promised land.
In Deuteronomy, we see the Old Testament Israel being brought through this path by God. In our own day, we see the New Testament Israel being brought along this path by God also. We too, as part of the Church Israel, have been redeemed from captivity to sin, death, and the devil. We too are being sustained in this life by the Lord, in a land apart from the promised land. We too have been promised that we will be led into the promised land. We are in the wilderness now, being provided for by the Lord, and looking forward to our entry into the promised land that is more abundant and contains more blessings than we can imagine.
And just as the burial cave that Abraham had purchased was the pledge of the land that his descendants would inherit, so too is the death of Jesus Christ our pledge of the promised land that we will inherit. Christ’s tomb in the cave is God’s pledge to you that you will inherit the promised land, which is the entire earth. Christ was laid in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights, and this grave guarantees that you too will inherit the earth, because Christ purchased it for you through his death and resurrection. He is coming again to restore all the earth to perfection and bring you into it, out of your graves, into the promised land of the new creation.
Until that day comes, we also have the pledge of this land here in the Church. Wherever God’s Word is proclaimed and His Sacraments administered, there is His beachhead. This is God’s land, where He dwells with His people in the Church, just as He dwelled in the beachhead of the land of Canaan with Old Testament Israel. The Church on earth is a beachhead, an invasion site, a start of what God is planning for all the earth. For the “promised land” is the entire earth; this is the inheritance that God promises us.
For Christ is returning to restore all creation, and we will live in this restored creation. We will be brought into the promised land to live with the Lord forever. And whatever blessings we have in this life will be exceeded by the blessings that will be ours in the life to come.
So, whatever blessings you have now, give thanks to the Lord for them. Rejoice and enjoy the gifts of the land in which you now dwell. Do not be like the nine lepers who received from Jesus but did not return to thank him; be the one who returns to praise God, from whom all blessings flow (Luke 17:11-19). And in the midst of all these great blessings that we receive now from the hand of God, know that a greater land is coming with the return of Christ when he will reign over all things directly and dwell directly with you, no longer through Word and Sacrament, but face to face.
So, give thanks, pray for our country, pray for its leaders, and pray for its people that all will recognize the blessings that we and they have come from God. He is the source of all good in our lives. So, we return to Him all prayer, praise, and thanksgiving for what He has done, is doing, and will do for us. He has redeemed us from eternal death, He is sustaining us in this life and blessing us, and He will raise us from the dead and bring us into the eternal promised land that will be the restored earth. And that land will truly be great and wonderful, because only the Lord and you His people will remain to enjoy creation’s blessings without the taint of sin, with no death, and with no evil in the world. So, stay strong and resolute in this wilderness and know for certain that “the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land.” Amen.
(Image: By Roland zh – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11271842 )