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Christmas 2020 Time to Raise Your Ebenezer!

by BOB SHILLINGSTAD/Special To The Press
| December 19, 2020 1:00 AM

“Samuel took a stone and set it up….and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” -1 Samuel 7:12

When you mention the word “Ebenezer,” many people probably think of the story by Charles Dickens written 177 years ago which includes the unforgettable character of Ebenezer Scrooge.

In fact, the name “Scrooge” now means a tight-fisted miser in our language today. This story is one of the most popular stories in our Christmas tradition and, in fact, “A Wonderful Life” and “The Grinch that Stole Christmas” have much the same message as the Dickens’ story. All of these stories celebrate overcoming hardships, family time, celebration and most important the gift of redemption and forgiveness.

You might not know that the word “Ebenezer” is a Biblical name mentioned three times in scripture. Ebenezer is a Hebrew word that means “stone of help.” The Hebrew transliteration shows the pronunciation as ‘ebhen ha ‘azer.

We read about this powerful word in 1 Samuel 7:12. This verse states: “Afterward, Samuel took a stone and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, explaining ‘The Lord has helped us to this point.’”

Before Samuel sets up his stone of remembrance, the Israelites are set to fight the Philistines once again. After two prior defeats, we can surmise that the morale of the soldiers was down. As the battle begins, Scripture says “The Lord thundered loudly against the Philistines that day and threw them into such confusion that they were defeated by the Israelites.”

At this point in Scripture, Ebenezer becomes the name of an altar. The meaning does not change but the power in it is brought to light. Samuel has been praying for his people to let go of their idols and immoral ways. Once his prayers are answered with the defeat of the Philistines, the land is restored to the Israelites, and there was peace between the Israelites and the Amorites. All these blessings deserved an act of remembrance.

The purpose of Samuel’s alter was to remind the Israelites of what God had done for them. In a time when God had removed his presence from them and they had experienced defeat, they needed a visual reminder. It was a way for Samuel to say thank you to his God, the God of Israel.

How does this apply to our lives today? 2020 has been a difficult year and I think historians will acknowledge that the decisions to quarantine and lock down our countries will be one of the worst decisions any country has made. Health authorities insist that the lockdowns are helping to prevent the spread of the virus, but they are also crippling people emotionally.

Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–October of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. These and other numbers from the CDC website give a sobering picture of the effects of shutting down schools, churches and other activities.

There was some good news related to the topic released this last week. According to a Gallup Poll released last Monday, frequent church attendees were the only group in the U.S. that did not experience a mental health decline in 2020

Gallup has conducted its November Health and Healthcare Survey annually since 2001. The 2020 results show 34% of Americans consider their mental health “excellent,” and 76% consider their mental health “excellent/good,” both are all-time lows. Forty-six percent of Americans who regularly attend religious services said their mental health is "excellent," an increase from last year's 42%. There is hope but not what the world is offering but instead in belief in a God whom we can turn to.

Ashley Hooker wrote an excellent piece about applying this concept to our lives this Christmas as you watch “A Christmas Carol” or sing “Come Thou Font” and see the word Ebenezer.

“Ebenezer moments are times when you know without a doubt that God has intervened in your life. You realize that only God could have allowed the outcomes you have experienced. His help has brought you through. A stone is a hard material. It can be used to build things and start fires.

"The Lord is like a stone. He is a God of mercy that is not easily broken and can send his Holy Spirit that can start an unquenchable fire in our hearts. Christians can raise their Ebenezer because God is our stone of help. He is solid and will help us through the times of trials. We all have had times when we know without God, we would not have made it through. That’s when we can raise our Ebenezer and remember the grace bestowed on us all.”

As you gather in church, with friends and family remember those times God has been that stone in our lives, we have built our home on a rock. Celebrate the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and His faithfulness.

The Bible tells us more than 500 times throughout scripture “not to fear.” He knows the end from the beginning! God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” -I Corinthians 1:9