Here’s my Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette column for tomorrow, December 23rd. I write about old Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” More than that, I suggest that God may be calling you to be someone’s “Ebenezer” even this week of Christmas!
“Christmas week may be your time to be someone’s Ebenezer”
To say the least Ebenezer Scrooge did not have much zeal for Christmas. At one point he resentfully says to his nephew Fred, “If I could work my will every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
Young Fred is shocked and shouts, “Uncle!”
Undeterred, Scrooge retorts, “Nephew! … keep Christmas in your way and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it,” Fred replies, “But you don’t keep it.”
“Let me leave it alone, then.”
As a young boy, before I ever came to know Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” I actually heard the name Ebenezer from my mother’s lips. That’s right. She used to traipse around the house singing the old hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” belting out the words, “Come thou fount of every blessing, turn my heart to sing thy grace.”
The second verse begins, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come.” Until I was way into my adult years, I had no idea what Ebenezer met. Finally I came to understand that the word comes from I Samuel chapter 7, where the Israelites find themselves under attack by the Philistines. Fearing for their lives they plead with the prophet Samuel to pray for them. When the prophet prayed and offered a sacrifice, the Philistines retreated, likely sparing the Israelites from certain death.
The story reads, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far, the Lord has helped me.’” (I Samuel 7:12)
Ebenezer is an anglicized form of the Hebrew word for stone (Eben) and the Hebrew word for helper (Ezer). So an Ebenezer is a stone of help. The Israelites could look at this small monument and remember how God had spared them. Likewise, when we raise our own “Ebenezers,” we point to something in our life that reminds us of how God helped us.
Back when my children were young, we made many trips to the Rocky Mountains during our summer vacations. Driving along we occasionally came upon small monuments along the roadside, some even made of round stones built into pyramids. Occasionally we pulled over and spent a minute reading the sign placed alongside that particular monument. Often the message described how pioneers, or early settlers, were helped or perhaps even spared by this person or that group. In essence, these “Ebenezers” dotted the landscape.
Theologian Mark Roberts says that in “A Christmas Carol” Ebenezer Scrooge was not merely the miserly, selfish character in the story. He suggests Charles Dickens intended for Scrooge to serve as a monument for those who read the famous story.
Given his careful attention to names and characters, Roberts thinks Dickens quite intentionally used the name Ebenezer. Ebenezer Scrooge is not only a stingy, selfish character, but also a monument – an “Ebenezer” – reminding readers of things they ought to never forget, lest they end up like Jacob Marley and the other spirits who walked the earth in sorrow, dragging the heavy chains they forged in life.
That got me thinking about my own journey in life and who in fact might be the “Ebenezers” dotting my landscape. One for sure is an old college friend who befriended me at a very low point when I was 19 years old. He loved me and accepted me just as I was. He always looked on the bright said of life as he told me to never give up hope. To this day I often think of him when I have the chance to reach out to someone who needs an extra word of encouragement.
Another Ebenezer for me is a physical object – a picture hanging on my office wall. Every time I sit at my desk I see a copy of Rembrandt’s “Prodigal Son.” The painting shows a loving father with both hands softly resting on the back of his kneeling and weary prodigal son who has returned home. This painting – this “Ebenezer” – reminds me that God loves me even when I miss the mark. When I ponder the painting, I remember that I, too, am loved.
Surely there are people in your life – your “Ebenezers” – that have helped you along the way. Maybe you, too, have a physical object that serves as an “Ebenezer” of God’s faithfulness for you.
But perhaps the real question is, “When you go through the ebbs and flows of life, to whom or at what do you look to remind you of God’s grace and care for you?” What are your stones of help?
I have a strong feeling that this week God just may call you to be an “Ebenezer” for someone in your life. Just like people watched old Ebenezer Scrooge, they are observing you. Truth is, you just never know for whom you might be the “Ebenezer” they so need.
Of course, the story ends brilliantly. Dickens writes that Scrooge “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” And then he adds what I hope is true this year: “May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”