If only questions in the game Trivial Pursuit were this easy: What is the busiest travel day of the year in the United States?The day before Thanksgiving.
Every year the travel gurus at AAA estimate how many people will travel by train, plane or automobile for the last American holiday free from mass marketing. In recent years AAA has consistently put their estimates around 40 million. With gas prices down thirty five cents this November over last, there is likely to be a quite a spike this Thanksgiving in car travel.
But where is everyone going? To the same place really: home.
Thanksgiving is a day we go searching for home - even if we are not traveling. On Thanksgiving we are either confidently expecting or timidly hoping that we will discover home to be that wonderful place we have always known it to be or at least longed for it to be: a place of intense hospitality and comfort where I am thoroughly known and deeply loved.
We know we can not find such a place in public life and we have witnessed the ruin of those who have tried (I am thinking of starlets, rockers and powerbrokers who ask public life to do what it cannot do). Public life has its provisions, but they cannot compare to the riches of home. And under the care of God's common grace much of our society still knows this. Thus our children are not kept in school to eat their thanksgiving meal. Workers are not kept at the office to break bread in corporate cafeterias. On Thanksgiving Day we are sent home. We gather to our families, or keep them at our side, and we face one another, looking to see if familiarity delivers the gladness we hoped it would. Will home be a place we can be grateful?
I was struck by the connection between gratitude and home a few years ago when I read Eric Metaxas' biography onDietrich Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer had loving parents, yes, but at home he had more than mere biological connections, he had a family culture that was akin to a feast. Saturday night sing-a-longs, penetrating conversations, regular guests, and unhurried meals. Bonhoeffer's father and some of his siblings were not Christian, so an anti-clerical subtext was always afoot. Yet Bonhoeffer received his family - both the believing and the unbelieving - as a Christian should, as gifts of God's common grace. Gifts like the sun and rain (Matt. 5:45). The sovereign Lord had tied these earthly bonds and they were to be received with thanksgiving even while they remained "test markets" for greater allegiance to Christ.
Granted, it was easier for Bonhoeffer than others keep a lively gratitude for his home life. Eberhard Bethge, one of Dietrich's closest friends, described the Bonhoeffer family this way: "The rich world of his ancestors set the standards for Dietrich Bonhoeffer's own life. It gave him a certainty of judgment and manner that cannot be acquired in a single generation. He grew up in a family that believed the essence of learning lay not in a formal education but in the deeply rooted obligation to be guardians of a great historical heritage and intellectual tradition."
The family's convictions on what a family was to be about generated a remarkably rich home culture for young Dietrich. So rich that we might protest that being grateful for such a home and for such a family must not be set out as a virtuous example because such gratitude came so easily. But there is nothing wrong with easily-won gratitude. An envious soul might see such as wrong, but a soul that loves God's gifts wherever they are found will not.
Many Americans will travel home this Thanksgiving to homes where gratitude is hard-won. Will there be too much drinking again? Will old conflicts stir up new belligerence? Will long-suppressed stories fill the air with tension? In many hearts the temptation will be strong to envy those in homes full of love, grace and godly freedom. Our souls will do well to remember, however, that gratitude does not find its footing upon the works of men but upon the works of God. The soul rises from the bonds of envy into gratitude when we look hard at God's gracious work in Christ crucified through whom world-ruining sinners like us gained an eternal home filled with peace, joy and righteousness.
The truth is, even here below, we have better homes than we deserve. If our Savior is dear to us, then even in homes of suffering we are blessed because we suffer for His name and in His presence. Such would not be our privilege if were were still just angry unbelieving sinners.
For all his gratitude for his upbringing, Bonhoeffer did not absolutize home. In short, his family home was not his most blessed home. This, not because he was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but because he was a Christian.
In June of 1939, Bonhoeffer arrived for a second time in America. He was to stay for two years, lecture and live as a visiting scholar. It was an effort by friends to keep him hidden from Hitler's prowling eyes. But Bonhoeffer lasted in America only 26 days. The liberal churches in NYC, the liberal professors at Union Seminary, the distance from the seminarians he had been training in Germany, his anxiety for the Confessing Church in Germany - it all came to be too much to bear. He hungered for home, but not that natural community of common grace. He hungered for the community of special grace, Christ's Church. On one particularly bad Sunday, after hearing more liberal preaching in Manhattan, he wrote in his diary: "They are lonely Sundays over here. Only the Word makes a true community" [July 2, 1939. Click here for a discerning word on Bonhoeffer].
Let us give thanks for the community of common grace we find at home. It comes from God. But let us love and sing and wonder over the community of special grace, the community of Christ's special love. If Christ's church includes your immediate blood relations - parents, children, siblings and more - give thanks to God, for this is His work. But if your calling as an exile extends even into your home, give thanks to God too, for you are not without a holy Father nor are you without a righteous and merciful Brother nor are you without a family inhabited by the eternal Spirit of God. And this also - you are not without all the trials you need to keep up a living hope for the most blessed home and Host.
"Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."(Matthew 12:48-50).