“Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds' feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.
Many others will celebrate it differently. Some will eat Thanksgiving dinner in a hospital bed. Some will eat it in a homeless shelter. Some will do the best they can with what can be found in the pantry. Some will be having dinner, using borrowed dishes and gifted food, because everything they own was lost in a fire or a hurricane. Some will sit down to a table that is full of amazing food, but surrounded by chairs that should not be empty, but are, because of illness or accident or a madman's rage. Some will leave town and avoid it all together, unable to face it this year.
The prophet Habakkuk knew what that was like. He lived in a time of national crisis, when the kingdom of Judah was under God's judgement for turning away from him. His description of the circumstances in which he lived sounds pretty bleak - no fruit on the trees or vines, no food in the fields, no flocks, no cattle. A disaster for an agrarian society.
And then, the word that changes everything.
Yet I will exult...yet I will rejoice.
How? How does one find the strength to rejoice and give thanks in such dreary circumstances?
By focusing on what does not change, in a world that always changes. What does Habakkuk show us?
"I will exult in the LORD." When the word LORD appears like that in capital letters, it is the name YHWH, the personal name of God that he gave to Moses, sometimes transcribed as Yahweh, or Jehovah. It is the name that speaks of God's covenant with his people, and the promise of his faithfulness in all generations. Even when everything in life has been turned upside down, I can know that he is faithful.
"I will rejoice in the God of my salvation." God is a promise-keeper, and one of his greatest promises is to save those who call on him. In Jesus, he did that fully. Every promise given is "yes" in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). And through his death and resurrection, we can know eternal life that extends far beyond this world in which we live. Even when everything in life has been turned upside down, I can know that my salvation is secure.
"The Lord GOD is my strength." Habakkuk rejoiced that God was his strength, even to enabling him walk securely like a "hind" - a deer able to walk with confidence in a rocky and dangerous terrain. In the same way, God is able to strengthen us, equipping us to walk nimbly, with confidence, even in the worst of times. Even when everything in life has been turned upside down, I can trust God to infuse me with his strength.
Do you notice that none of these changes our circumstances? They are all about changing us - helping us focus on God and his attributes more than our circumstances, whatever they are.
That is the secret of Thanksgiving. It's not to just say thank you for our visible earthly blessings, but to exult in the source of ALL blessings - God. It is to rejoice in what is unseen - His promises kept, his salvation freely given, his strength in our weakness.
Today, whether the thanks flows easily or with great difficulty, I pray you experience Habakkuk's secret, and when your circumstances threaten to overwhelm, you whisper with him,