Is there any such thing as a blessing too big? A gift too great? A kindness too cosmic? Yes, and I first experienced such a blessing, such a gift, such a kindness on a Thanksgiving almost 50 years ago.
I grew up on a story book Iowa farm. We raised all manner of livestock (ovine, bovine, equine, swine, canine, feline, leporidae) and fowl (exotic and ordinary). Even though we were surrounded by nothing but farms, our farm was the destination for field trips from grade schools near and far. Where else could you go to milk a cow by hand, ride a horse, pet a sheep, eat homemade cookies on a hay rack in a sunny pasture?
In the fall, my father raised turkeys for our neighbors’ Thanksgiving tables. He always kept the best one for our family, butchered and plucked it himself as a gift to my mother. We were a big family, so no ordinary turkey could feed us all, but one November my father outdid himself. He had been keeping a secret from my mother—a 40-pound turkey lurched and gobbled in a coop behind the barn. A feathered Chris Farley. My father loved to surprise my mother—this gigantic turkey would be the perfect holiday surprise.
I remember the crisp, cold afternoon he walked into the kitchen, holding the enormous naked bird aloft by its scaly feet—an offering to the gods of Thanksgiving. He was certain my mother would swoon with delight. Instead, she was horrified. The bird was big as a bushel basket, almost freakish. “How will I ever get that in the oven?” she blurted. His face and shoulders fell; even the bird drooped. Without a word, he left the house, dragging the rejected bird behind him. The next sound we heard was the revving of a chainsaw in the garage. My father cleaved that enormous bird in two, in the same way my unsuspecting mother had taken a chainsaw to this heart.
Though my father’s gobbling gift served its culinary purpose, Thanksgiving Dinner that year was not quite the same. We were all aware that our main course’s Better Half pouted icily in the basement freezer. The blessing had been too big, the gift too great, the kindness almost cosmic.
The pandemic has highlighted the lack in our lives, losses too many to name, too painful to acknowledge. We fear the wound in our hearts will never be filled. And though the promise of a vaccine is promising, it is yet distant, too good to be true. We will not allow our hopes to be dashed again.
But, in the church, we stand on the edge of a new year, another Advent of hopeful longing. On Sunday, the first candle of our Advent wreath will flicker in the darkness: “We light the Advent candles against the winter night.” On Sunday, the first notes of our ancient longing will float in the air: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” On Sunday, the prophet reminds that God “did awesome deeds that we did not expect.” (Isaiah 64.1-9)
This Advent, one of the darkest we have known, promises blessings too big, gifts too great, kindness too cosmic. The light will shine. Our lives will sing. God will, again, do marvelous things. Our hearts, sawn in two, will be restored, resewn, renewed.
Thanksgiving was more than a federally-mandated holiday on the farm. It was a sigh of relief—the harvest was in, the barn was dry, the pantry was full, our house was warm, our family was safe. Though I have heard my father sing in decades (and I doubt St. Peter has invited him to sing in the heavenly choirs), I can still hear his tuneless, gravelling voice rise and fall in grateful praise during Thanksgiving worship in our country church:
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make know.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.
With all our farmer neighbors, he gave thanks for blessings too big, gifts too great, kindnesses almost cosmic. None of us is forgotten. Not one.
I am eager for Advent and its invitation to unreasonable hope. Come, Lord Jesus, come soon.
Blessed Thanks Giving,
Pastor JoAnn Post