Understanding Ebenezer

As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the LORD thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and drove them back as far as below Beth Car. 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 us.” So the Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.” (1 Samuel 7:10-13)


Ebenezer thus means “stone of help”, which isn’t necessarily vital or even helpful information, just an interesting note to begin a discussion of the holiday season and the undeniable emotional dichotomy it presents.


I had always heard folks say that Christmas is both the happiest and saddest time of the year. I am sure somewhere in the annals of time a well known sage or scribe uttered a memorable quote denoting this, but I cannot tell you that for sure. At any rate, it is something I’ve heard but never really paid much attention to…until now.


I have always loved the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s holiday corridor. Christmas especially…with its singular music, delicious food, classic movies & TV specials, lovely lights & decorations, and unique vibe has always been my favorite holiday. As a child one is obviously drawn toward the idea of Santa Claus and presents, while adulthood hopefully brings about a deeper appreciation of Christmas as a celebration of the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. At least that was my experience anyway. Many of us also have a plethora of traditions, usually family related, that we take for granted as kids then develop a wistful nostalgia for as we grow older. Most people mature & evolve, developing new traditions as life’s many transitions…birth, death, marriage, relocation…occur. But it is in these inevitable transitions that the aforementioned duality develops.


Let me go back to Ebenezer for a moment. That, of course, is the first name of the protagonist Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I feel confident in assuming most will have read the book or watched the movies and be familiar with the story. Scrooge is a mean, uncaring, greedy miser who hates everything and everyone. But why?? I am not Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew, Dr. Oz, or Dr. Ruth, but I have read the book and know that The Ghost of Christmas Past showed that there were reasons why Scrooge ended up the way he did. It is suggested that his childhood wasn’t the best, that his Dad treated him badly. He did have a sister, Fan, that he loved dearly, but she died as a young woman during childbirth. That probably was the exclamation point that sealed Scrooge’s bitterness. In between these two events we see Scrooge become a businessman obsessed with money, an obsession that cost him the only other person he ever seemed to have loved, a fiancee named Belle.


Now I know that Ebenezer Scrooge is a fictional character. I can separate fantasy from reality. But it seems likely that Dickens based his story and his characters, to a degree, on his real life experiences. And let’s face it…we all know people in our own lives that share atleast a shadow of a trait or two or three with ol’ Scrooge.


As I move steadily along my 30’s on the brink of “middle age” I have struggled mightily to retain my childish enthusiasm for Christmas. I still love the sights and sounds and smells of the season. But I have also developed a deeper understanding of how and why it can also be a very sad time for some, and why there are those that are more like Ebenezer Scrooge than Bob Cratchit.


Those inevitable transitions of life are much kinder to some than others. The most important night of the holiday season when I was a kid was Christmas Eve when we would gather at my grandparents’ home to celebrate what I call The Mano Fish Fest. It is a hybrid version of the Italian-Catholic Feast of the Seven Fishes, modified because for some strange reason my particular branch of the family is not Catholic, I am not sure we’ve ever had 7 types of fish, and there is a lot of other food as well. As my grandparents grew older the celebration moved to my aunt’s house, but for the most part nothing else changed. However, over time things have been transformed significantly. A photo of the big night from 20 years ago versus one from last year will show that several people…my grandfather, my Mom, my maternal grandmother (who was always included even though she was not a Mano), a couple of cousins, and an uncle…have died. My Grandma Mano is now 96 and in poor health. My aunt isn’t all that well herself, and I can foresee the day when the big Fish Fest is a thing of the past, and I have nothing better to do on Christmas Eve than stay at home watching the TBS A Christmas Story marathon. Christmas Day has changed dramatically too. My life, as well as the lives of my father and sister, was forever altered by the death of my mother ten years ago. We decided that we just couldn’t celebrate Christmas at my parents’ house with Mom gone, so we transitioned to my sisters’ home. At the time her two boys were just little tikes and she’d do her best to fix a meal, although it could never live up to the feast Mom always prepared. Now my nephews are teenagers, and they have to spend part of the day with their father and his 2nd wife and family anyway. All my grandparents’ came to our house on Christmas Day when I was a child, so that of course is gone now too. Add to all these changes the fact that I am single and have no children. My friend The Owl and I have had many discussions about how society is dictated by and for married people with children and how single, childless individuals are marginalized and often get lost in the shuffle. It is no one’s fault, and it is not my intention to lay blame at anyone’s feet or expect the world to cry me a river. We all have our issues. My purpose here is simply to point out my increased understanding of the two-sided, happy/sad Christmas coin. And I won’t even go into what a nightmare it is to go shopping this time of year. I haven’t decided if the fact that I used to love that hustle & bustle but now dread going within a mile of the mall in December is more a reflection of my own personality changing or just the growing debasement of society as a whole.


Please do not misunderstand. I am not becoming an acrimonious old misanthrope. I still love Christmas. But I do realize how and why so many find this time of year to be nothing but lonely and sad. I am very fortunate to have what family remains, a roof over my head, a job that enables me to buy a few gifts for my Dad, sister, and nephews, and a church with which I am involved that engages in a lot of Christmas activities (even if half of them get cancelled almost annually when the powers-that-be are repeatedly surprised that it is cold in December). There are so many people who aren’t as fortunate, and that realization helps me overcome my own tendency to gravitate toward melancholy.


I wish I had some sagacious words of wisdom for those whose spirits are pierced with the sharp sword of sorrow this time of year, but unfortunately I am not quite there yet. All I can say is that I can, on some level, understand and empathize, just like I can dislike the type of ill tempered curmudgeon that personifies the Scrooge mentality but can also say with a smidgen of sagacity that I get it, that I see where they are coming from and will keep them in my prayers.

 

 


 

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2 thoughts on “Understanding Ebenezer

  1. I have a problem with the OT God that helps the Israelites murder their contemporary tribes and civilizations. I want to think God is everyone’s God. I want to think God does not choose people, but people choose God. Although a theology student, I have not resolved the matter. Peter taught that the Messiah was the exclusive property of Jews but Paul taught Jesus came for all.Seems to me that would include the Philistines.

  2. I feel ya Sam. Although my extended family has grown in size over the years, my December divorce in ’98 left a seemingly permanant melancholy at Christmastime for me. I’d like to get over it but the best I can do so far is keep it to myself. I’m sure a death in the family leaves a similar imprint. Happy New Year anyway!

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