Before we get into the Christmas season, and start taking about Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds, we need to look at what November means. November doesn’t have all the lights and tinsel. November is about home. There is the Homecoming, the homemade pumpkin pie, and the family coming home for the holidays. November is about coming home. It can be a time of great gladness and great sorrow. My family lost a family member this year. And there will be an empty place at the table. I doubt my story is unique.
But November also reminds us of great sacrifice. For the original thanksgiving was celebrated at great personal cost to Gov. William Bradford and the colonists of Plymouth Rock. It is a story that deserves to be retold as part of our nation’s history and religious heritage.
The Pilgrims’ story begins as their religious sect is marginalized in English society. Their stance on morality and virtue are too strict for some, and they are persecuted. They move to Amsterdam where any religion is welcome, but they find the morals there too loose, and are afraid their children will emulate them.
The make the decision as a congregation to emigrate to America, the newly discovered land where the English King has little power, and the English Church has little influence. Their chartered ship, the Mayflower, sets sail in the harsh North Atlantic, and finally sets sight on the Massachusetts coast that fall.
Their first winter was cruel, with cross after cross erected on the hill outside of the settlement. It is not an easy thing to be a settler in the new world, and it is not until they make some peace with the Indians, through the help of Squanto, that they are able to make any success.
The story of the pilgrims as we remember ends with the celebration of Thanksgiving in their first good harvest in the new world. Around their table was welcome one and all. It is this celebration that most people remember, not the sacrifices and lessons that preceded it. But this distant mirror of the marriage supper of the Lamb may yet remind of our celebration with the Son of God when at last our labors are done.
And maybe those two stories, of our family griefs and joys, and the sacrifice and faithfulness of the Puritan pilgrims, at some point intersect and intertwine, because our struggles are the same. Could we find in their story hope for our own? If we understood the faith of those pilgrims, perhaps we will find courage ourselves.