To Gather or Not to Gather

To Gather or Not to Gather: That Is the Question

by Dale Reeves
Story Pastor

This year we have moved on from Hamlet’s time-tested question, “To be or not to be?” and instead are asking, “To gather or not to gather?”

“Should we gather with our friends and family at Thanksgiving like we always do, or should we be cautious and not gather together this year?”

“Should we attend our church services in person at the building with other believers, or should we stay home and worship with others virtually?”

“Should we venture out on the day after Thanksgiving and go shopping like we usually do, or should we let Amazon Prime do all of our shopping?”

“Should we gather together with friends over coffee to talk about life or should we just Zoom all of our social interactions?”

As we approach Thanksgiving this year many families are struggling with questions like these: Should we gather with friends and family to celebrate this holiday together, or should we keep our distances, isolate ourselves, and hope for the best, as we combat the virus none of us will ever forget in our lifetime? At the end of the day, depending on which state you live in, and what mandates or directives you’ve been given, each person will make their own choice as to whether or not to gather with a small sample of their family (and they will also decide whether to wear a face covering or not); or to gather with extended friends and family as they usually do every November. One thing is certain—all of us have reasons to be thankful this year.

Some Things Are Different
In the hopes of spreading joy and peace among people, I have noticed more folks in our surrounding neighborhoods putting up Christmas decorations (both outside and inside) earlier this year. Many retailers are also not waiting until the Friday after Thanksgiving to feature their “Black Friday” sales. In the hopes of having a good year of Christmas sales, they are marketing to people their D-E-A-L-S earlier by promoting special pricing on specific items each week leading up to Christmas. Due to remote learning for colleges and schools, and leaning on the side of extreme caution, more kids will be home with their parents for longer holiday breaks. I’m guessing more families will be constructing gingerbread houses and baking cookies and Christmas treats than ever—and for longer periods of time. Just a tip I want to pass on to you from my mother-in-law and wife: You better get to the grocery now and buy the baking supplies you need before they disappear!

What?! No Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade this year? What will we watch on TV in the morning while the bird is cooking in the oven? And, we won’t know which college football and NFL games will be broadcast until the week of, based on the COVID-19 protocols all teams must abide by. Yes, there is no doubt that some things this Thanksgiving week will be very different.

But, remember this, the author of Hebrews has given us this to hold onto: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NLT). He promises to never leave us alone, to never forsake us, no matter how different life must feel to us right now.

Some Things Remain the Same
I still love turkey, dressing, and gravy, corn pudding, candied yams with marshmallows, yeast rolls, my mother-in-law’s fruit tea, pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top . . . followed by a nap to whatever NFL game is being broadcast. And, I still love gathering together with loved ones, and holding hands before we partake of the scrumptious meal, as one of the children gives thanks to God for his provisions this year. We will remember those who have had health, financial, and emotional struggles this year, and we will thank God for his sustenance and constant presence among us. How could we have gotten through this year without him?

In a random survey taken of people who were asked something they are grateful for that has come about because of COVID, some of the responses included:

Life slowing down, more family time.
I have focused more on being gracious to others who may have a different opinion than my own.
I realized how much I love my church family and missed seeing some of my friends.
Realizing we don’t need so much stuff or places to go to be content.
I renewed my relationship with my husband.
The ability to rest and be still.
Enjoying the little things in life.
Building stronger relationships with our neighbors.
Being able to stay home with my kids more.
We got back into the habit of sitting down as a family for dinner.
The ability to shower whenever I want!
I learned some new skills, and was able to take some online classes I’ve been wanting to take.
More time for reading.
Grateful for the reminder that God is in control!
I got to spend some time in the mountains alone with God and family members.

What about you? What would you add to that list that you are grateful for this year? The psalmist sets the example for us: Praise the Lord! I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails” (Psalm 111:1-3, NLT).

We Gather Together
I grew up singing a hymn that was originally written by an unknown author in celebration of Dutch freedom from Spanish sovereignty at the end of the 16th century. It was translated into English in 1894 by Theodore Baker. Not long after that the hymn became associated with our American Thanksgiving holiday. I remember singing this in a “church school” I attended once a week while in my elementary years. I never completely understood lyrics such as “he chastens and hastens his will to make known” but I did understand the third stanza as the hymn went on to sing about “extoling” God as our leader triumphant, whose name would “be ever praised.”

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to his Name, he forgets not his own.”

He forgets not his own! My heart goes out to those whose immune system is compromised, and the elderly among us who will not be gathering with many friends and family based on their decision (or one made for them) to take precautionary measures to stay healthy this year. May our God hold them very close in the palm of his hand this season, and may they know that their friends and loved ones have not forgotten them. God, help them as they combat loneliness and depression. Give them an extra-special sense of your presence and peace. And, God, be with their caregivers who are with them day in and day out, showing them your love in very tangible ways.

Whether you spend Thanksgiving with just a few loved ones or caregivers this year, or whether you carry on with business as usual, Jesus says to us, For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20, ESV). May his presence be very near to you this season!

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