O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
1 Chronicles 16.34:
Thanksgiving – the annual November celebration – is not a part of my Korean culture, and I do not know the full historic and political meaning. I do know that some of our Native American sisters and brothers have deep feelings about its implications, but I believe there is grace in what it can mean – a day and time dedicated to giving thanks to God for the multitude blessings in this life.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the phrase “into each life some rain must fall,” and it would be foolish to deny this is true, but we should never allow our focus to remain on the trials and troubles life can bring. Certainly, there is pain and loss, tragedy and suffering, and times of darkness and despair, but these do not define life. For the vast majority of the people on this planet, living day to day can be an uphill battle, but in my many travels, I am always deeply impressed that so many who have so little contain much joy. Thanksgiving, gratitude, and appreciation abound. Many who, by United States standards, are among the poorest of the poor find reason to dance and laugh and sing. How can this be?
I believe, quite simply, that we are created in the image of God, and that our God is a God of joy, celebration, jubilation, fullness, and abundance. Perhaps not always in material things – I have never subscribed to a “prosperity gospel” – but in the deepest, spiritual, most meaningful things. We are blessed when we have love of family and friends, when we live in community, and when we care for others as they care for us. We are blessed in body, mind, and spirit, which makes life an adventure, a mystery, and journey of discovery. We are wonderfully made for laughter, for pleasure, for contentment, and for joy. It is part of our human nature to desire good for others, to make sacrifices, to care and to give. Generosity is essential to our spirit, a fruit alongside gentleness, kindness, love and joy. Our hearts soar at the sight of a sunset, a rainbow, a star-rich sky. We resonate at the deepest level with the noble, the beautiful, the right, and the good. Oh, my friends, we have so very much to be grateful for!
We are preparing hearts, minds, and spirit to embark on another Advent journey. My prayer and desire for all this year is that we will make a conscious decision to enter Advent with a joyful heart and a thankful spirit. Yes, this is a choice! Look to the good, not the bad. Appreciate what you have, not what you lack. Look for Jesus in others, not the devil. Commit to that which makes life full and wonderful and lovely. Decide against what tears down, limits, or denies. Instead, in all ways, at all times, “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).