“Thanking God for His First-Article Gifts” (Apostles’ Creed)
Thanksgiving is a time for “Thanking God for His First-Article Gifts.” What do I mean by that? I mean all the good gifts our heavenly Father gives us that are summarized in the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed. Let’s turn there, shall we? Page 322 in your hymnal. We’ll read that article of the Creed itself and then the explanation from the catechism. Together:
“The First Article: Creation. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”
In this First Article of the Creed, I think we can see at least seven kinds of gifts that God gives us, along with countless particular blessings within each category. The seven kinds of gifts I have in mind I can call by these terms: Creation. Preservation. Provision. Protection. Mercy. Thanksgiving. Faith. Let’s take them one at a time.
First, Creation: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses.”
Think of the majesty and immensity of the universe that God has created. Did you see the Supermoon that appeared last week? Very impressive. But that’s just a tiny sliver, a mere micro-fraction, of all the magnificence God has built into the galaxies. Only God do all that. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
But then we go from the cosmic scale down to the very personal. God has made me. His work of creation extends to me. I have life because God has given it to me. He’s given me this body. He’s given me a soul to animate my being. I have eyes and ears, arms and legs. I have a mind that works. I have senses to perceive what is going on around me. Lord, “you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
Not only has God created me with blessings of body and soul, he also preserves them for me. That’s the second of our seven First-Article gifts, Preservation. Yes, he has given me body and soul, eyes, ears, and so on. But then notice this little phrase, “and still takes care of them.” That’s preservation.
God has built healing into our bodies. When a part gets damaged or injured, often the body heals itself. When we get sick, usually we get better. We live in a sin-damaged world. Ever since our first parents fell into sin, a curse has come upon creation. Our bodies don’t work right. They decay and decline. Even so, God in his goodness has not left us without his healing touch. Healing happens. Sometimes it’s built in. Sometimes it’s extraordinary. Sometimes God channels his healing through doctors. In any case, the glory goes to God, the fountain and source of all goodness. So God’s work of preservation is another reason to thank him.
Creation, Preservation. Now third, Provision. The catechism puts it like this: “He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”
Provision. Here is where we can come up with a long list of particulars to thank God for. Luther gives us just a small sampling: “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.” Likewise, in the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, under “daily bread,” he throws in a bunch more: “food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”
What is your “and all I have,” what is your “and the like” this Thanksgiving? Have you thought about that? The old saying, “Count your many blessings,” is true. What are you giving thanks for today? Run these blessings over in your mind. Thank God for these blessings. Tell your friends and family what you’re giving thanks for. Name them. And don’t let it just be a generic “I’m thankful for.” Specifically say you’re thanking God for these blessings. So often our Thanksgiving dinners are just about the food and the family, but nobody bothers to speak many words of thankfulness to God, which is what the day is supposed to be about in the first place.
And in particular, this is the Day of National Thanksgiving. The whole point of having the day off from work is to stop and give thanks to God for his blessings on our nation. It’s not so that we can watch football or go shopping or go to the movies. It’s so that we can come together and give thanks to God for showering his blessings on our country. And with all her faults and all her failings, America is still a very blessed land–an astoundingly blessed land, which we surely don’t deserve. “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain.” Yes, America, God has shed his grace on thee! And this is a day to thank God for that.
Creation. Preservation. Provision. Now, fourth, Protection: “He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.”
Think of all you would not have if God were not protecting you, if God were not guarding you and defending you. His holy angels are watching out for you. “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.” “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.” Even if bad things do befall you, they shall not overpower you. They cannot rob you of your salvation. That is sure and secure in Christ.
And that brings us to our fifth point, Mercy: “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”
It’s mercy, not merit, that brings you all these First-Article gifts. Creation, Preservation, Provision, Protection–you don’t earn these blessings. You don’t deserve them. “God gives them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.” Grace is God’s rich, undeserved favor, and it comes to us on account of Christ. Christ Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer, and that’s Second-Article stuff. God’s mercy to us is all-embracing, and his First-Article gifts are of a piece with his Second-Article gifts, the redemption we have in Christ. He, Jesus, has redeemed us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, by means of his holy blood shed for us on the cross. As a result, we have forgiveness, righteousness and renewal and resurrection, eternal life and salvation. God is merciful toward us because of Christ. God looks kindly upon us because of what Jesus, his Son, has done for us, rescuing us poor sinners and reconciling us back to God. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
And God’s mercy prompts our praise. Thanksgiving, that’s the next point: “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”
It is our duty, and it is also our delight. The very act of thanking God and praising him lifts our spirits and gives us joy. We are drawn to consider and contemplate the goodness of God, and that fills our hearts with thankfulness. An attitude of gratitude permeates our soul. “Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endureth forever.” This is the refrain of my life. “Ten thousand thousand precious gifts my daily thanks employ; nor is the least a cheerful heart that tastes those gifts with joy.” The very fact that you can rejoice with thanksgiving to God for all his gifts–that in itself is a gift from God
Creation. Preservation. Provision. Protection. Mercy. Thanksgiving. Now finally, Faith. Faith means that you can say with confidence: “This is most certainly true.”
You know this. You believe this. You know that God is the source of all your blessings. You know that Jesus Christ is the one through whom you have all these blessings, not to mention all the blessings of eternal life still to come. And it is the Holy Spirit who works this faith in you, through the gospel, through the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, so that now you can say with firm faith, “This is most certainly true.” And so we come full-circle.
So today, on this Day of Thanksgiving, give thanks to God for all his gifts. Start with these First-Article gifts we’ve been talking about today: Creation. Preservation. Provision. Protection. Mercy. Thanksgiving. Faith. But don’t stop there. Because God’s gifts don’t stop there, and they will never end. In truth, every day is Thanksgiving Day, and these days are just the beginning.