Thanksgiving in America would largely be a forgotten holiday if it weren't for the fact that most people have a four day weekend. Halloween had barely ended and the stores were already stocked with Christmas lights, trees, and reindeer. I couldn't go to the hardware store without hearing "Deck the Halls" and "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" floating down the aisles.
But Thanksgiving is actually a holiday that deserves more attention. The Bible exhorts us repeatedly to give thanks to the Lord, and it is worthwhile to take advantage of a day that has been devoted to giving thanks to do just that. The Pilgrims certainly did at that first Thanksgiving, and a hymn which I have always associated with that first Thanksgiving is "Come Ye Thankful People Come." In fact, the song was not around in 1621, but was written in 1844.
When I was growing up, I knew "Come Ye Thankful People Come" by the name of "Harvest Home," and I loved the melody. Still, I never paid much attention to the words. But now that I'm older, I have discovered that the lyrics, written by Dr. Henry Alford, a noted hymnologist and Greek scholar, hold a deep level of meaning.
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.
Now, while I have always loved this song, I have never been clear on what exactly a "harvest home" is. I simply assumed that it was a phrase that meant the home of a farmer who had finished harvesting his fields. Boy, was I wrong.
Today, however, I discovered an on-line article entitled "The First Thanksgiving (1621) And, "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" (1844)" which discusses the writing of this Thanksgiving hymn and the meaning of the verses. For example, it says of the phrase "harvest home"
The first verse is a true expression of God's safe provision and a call for man's thanksgiving. "But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). It addresses the common theme of harvest festivals, called in England the Harvest Home, which is celebrated in English churches usually during the month of September. A thanksgiving service would be held in the church, where the bounty of the harvest is collected, displayed with the fall trappings of pumpkins and autumn leaves, and then dispensed to the needy. And, of course, unlike the humanist that is essentially grateful to only himself, a true Harvest Home celebration acknowledges the provision of God, as did the Pilgrims in 1621 and the ancient Hebrews in their Feast of Firstfruits in the spring on the first day after Passover at the time of the barley harvest.
With this knowledge, now consider again the first verse. It is a call to those who are thankful to God to come to the Harvest Home (the service of celebration) where they can give thanks to the maker who has provided for their needs. The bounty is then shared with the poor in a Biblically ordained act of distributive justice.
But with the second verse, the song changes. It still speaks of the harvest, but the focus is no longer on the harvest of wheat and other things grown to meet our earthly needs.
All the world is God's own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.
As the article previously cited notes, "the last three verses deal with the theme of final harvest in the judgment of the world as paralleled in Christ's parables of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30) and the parable of the seed springing up without the sower knowing of it (Mark 4:26-29)." In other words, we are going to be God's harvest. Some of us will be the wholesome grain while others will be the tares which are to be cast out. The song, therefore, has taken a turn from being thankful for the provision of God and turns to a prayer that requests that we be among those who are harvested by God and shall be part of his Harvest Home.
The song continues
For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.
Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.
This is an image of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ that He foretold in the Olivet Discourse. And it is a call for Jesus to come soon and take those of us who are part of the harvest to His home in heaven. The continuing use of the language of the harvest is both beautiful, illustrative and Biblical.
I pray that each and every person here has a wonderful Thanksgiving and comes to the dinner table with a true heart of thanksgiving for all of the great and wonderful provisions that God has granted to us. Further, I pray that those who are not yet part of the great harvest to come will, before that great and terrible day, come to a true knowledge of the awesome majesty of the truths of God as relayed to man through Jesus Christ, God's one and only true Son.