In the midst of managing a war and a wild economy, the President of the United States will again this Thanksgiving step up to one of the most decisive responsibilities of his office. He will pardon a turkey. Actually, two turkeys. This is serious business. There's actually a backup turkey - just in case Turkey #1 isn't able to serve as - what one writer called - the ungobbled gobbler.
Of course, these lucky birds have names. One year "Biscuit" and "Gravy" escaped the ax. Then there was "Marshmallow" and "Yam"..."Flyer" and "Fryer"..."May" and "Flower"...and, last year, "Apple" and "Cider." After their Summit with the President, the turkeys are sent to Disneyland - and they didn't even win the Super Bowl. (They used to be sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia. No, I'm not making any of this up. I couldn't.) Turkey #1 then rides with the Mouse as the Honorary Grand Marshal of Disneyland's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I'm thinkin' - only in America.
At the same time, I'm thinking about that word "pardon." Because it's become a deeply personal word for me. "May" and "Flower" got pardoned by the highest authority in the land. My pardon comes from the highest Authority in the universe. And as for it being a turkey who got pardoned, I'm not going there.
What I can tell you is there's no way I deserved the pardon I received. Not this stubborn rebel who's pushed God to the margins of my life so many times...who's time and again said, in essence, "God, You run the universe, and I'll run me, thank You." No, I've never killed anybody or committed a major crime against society. But I'm guilty of infinite counts of doing the selfish thing, the angry thing, the proud thing, the hurting thing. I am what the Bible says I am - a sinner. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
Not only is the verdict in, but so is the penalty. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). That's "death" as in forever separation from God. I stand on the spiritual equivalent of Death Row.
But for the pardon. Which the dictionary says is to "exempt the guilty party from punishment." "Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression?" He is the God who is willing to "hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea" (Micah 5:18-19). Buried. Erased from my record.
Oh, my eternal death penalty wasn't cancelled. It was paid. By Someone else. By the very Son of God Himself. "Christ died for our sins, the righteous (that's Him) for the unrighteous (that's me), to bring you to God" (1 Peter 3:18). An unspeakable sacrifice for me, for all us condemned sinners.
But there's something strange about a pardon. You have to take it. And who wouldn't? George Wilson didn't. Condemned to hang for a crime he committed, he was pardoned at the last minute by then President Andrew Jackson. But as unbelievable as it sounds, he wouldn't take the pardon. As the government tried to force the pardon on Wilson, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Attorney General said, "The Court cannot give the prisoner the benefit of the pardon unless he claims the benefit of it." And the Chief Justice concluded, "A pardon is an act of grace…from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws…Delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered."
Many to whom God has granted this "act of grace" called a pardon - based on the death of His Son for them - refuse to accept it. They either ignore it, postpone it, or choose to keep running their own life or depend on their religion and their goodness. And like, George Wilson, they will pay a death penalty they didn't have to pay. Jesus already paid it.
It's Thanksgiving Week. A wonderful time to accept the pardon that came at such a high price.