If there is ever a year when finding things to be thankful for would be difficult, 2020 is likely the year. These “unprecedented” times are some of the most agonizing in recent memory, giving the reigning “worst year ever” titleholder a run for its money. I don’t think I need to belabor that point, though. Regardless where you call on the “COVID-19 worry spectrum,” we are all likely intimately familiar with the exasperation and exhaustion that has defined this year. Yet, even still, with all that’s transpired over the course of 2020, there is much for which we can be thankful.
Perhaps that’s a hard concept for you to believe. Perhaps the last three-hundred or so days have each involved hardship in droves — bringing you to the brink of your physical, emotional, and spiritual grief. I don’t mean to dismiss anything that you have endured. The traumatic effects of 2020 will likely be felt in repercussive degrees long after this year is over. But I will say that the deepest turmoil can often bring about our deepest thanks.
An old adage tells us that we don’t know what we have till it’s gone. Until that highly regarded person, place, or thing (or freedom) is taken away, we aren’t likely to understand its value. Or how intricate a role it plays in our well-being. Maybe you’re learning that in ways that are all too real. That we take for granted, though, the gifts given to us by the Creator speaks volumes to humanity’s misconstruing and misunderstanding of the present. If there’s anything that my current preaching series through the book of Ecclesiastes is teaching me, it’s that it is the height of folly to miss the gift of the present by worrying about the future.
The Preacher tells us that it’s the fool who “multiplies words” as he pretends to have insight into future days. “No one knows what will happen,” the Preacher affirms, “and who can tell anyone what will happen after him?” (Ecc 10:14) As the future marches on, however, the gift of the present, of this moment, is one that has been given to us by God. And there are countless gifts to relish and cherish and hold close. (Ecc 7:14–15; 8:15; 9:7–9)
For me, the thing I have found renewed thanks for is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Saying that you’re thankful for God’s good news can sound trite, like a glib cliché in the cacophony of bad news in which we find ourselves oftentimes. But, again, perhaps that’s more a testimony of our human propensity to take for granted that which we’ve been given. Because if there’s one thing for which we can always be thankful, for which our affections can endlessly grow, it is God’s timeless announcement that his power to save is infinitely more powerful than our proclivity to sin. (Rom 1:16–17; 2 Cor 5:21)
The tenet of the gospel which has surged in affection for me lately is the fact of the gospel’s freeness. “For you are saved by grace through faith,” St. Paul proclaims, “and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8–9) Everywhere throughout Scripture, the evangel resounds, “Believe and live.” (Jn 5:24; 6:29; Acts 4:12; 16:30–31; Rom 10:9–10; 1 Jn 3:23) There is no condition we have to work ourselves into in order to receive this salvation — it is held out to us in the person and work of Christ as preeminently, preveniently free. “The salvation which the Gospel provides, is wholly of grace,” writes Episcopal minister Stephen H. Tyng, “both as flowing from the original unmerited favour and mercy of God the Father, and as applied by the divine and special power of the Holy Ghost.”1 Every note in Jesus’s symphony of grace reverberates with a song of salvation that is “perfectly free,” as Tyng continues:
The Gospel opens to us therefore, a salvation perfectly free. It has provided everything for which our souls can want. And having made such abundant provisions, it asks us to receive them all without money and price. They are provisions of grace which are clogged with no conditions. You are to accept the whole, as the gift of God to those who are perishing, and this they become your own forever. Neither the depth of previous guilt nor the extreme weakness and corruption of your nature, forms any difficulty. Salvation is as freely offered to the pirate in his dungeon, as to the man who is in the morality of his conduct, not far from the kingdom of God. Whosoever will, may take a blessing, which is offered to all who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and to which man can add nothing, and for which man has nothing to give. In making this free offer of mercy, the Gospel does not ask what you have been, or what you have done. It addresses you as the chief of sinners, as crimsoned with the stains of guilt; and presents the full glories of its finished and perfect salvation, as freely to one as to another, asking nothing but an humble and thankful acceptance of the gift. The whole work of merit has been finished; and the whole offer of it is free and simple.2
This year — as, perhaps, it should be ever year — my deepest thanks are given to the astonishing announcement of my soul’s remarkably free salvation, which is bound up in the indescribable gift of the Lord Jesus. May you, as well, find renewed wells of thanksgiving and praise for the gift of God’s gospel. May we echo loudly, along with the apostle, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” (2 Cor 9:15) Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Stephen Tyng, Lectures on the Law and the Gospel (New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1849), 232.