The events of the last two years could be inserted into the lyrics of We Didn’t Start the Fire as a continuation of the already overwhelming list of historical events that have layered the reality of where we find ourselves today. Not only do I already not like that song because I find it impossible to remember the lyrics to sing along, I also do not have the physical, emotional, or spiritual fortitude to listen to such a rapidly syncopated retelling of the events.
And yet, at the end of the year, it is good practice to reflect on the year and raise our ebenezers to the testament of God’s goodness, even among the things we do not call good. The word ebenezer makes me think of the hymn Come Thou Fount. “Here I raise my ebenezer, hither by thy help I’m come.” I always pictured someone raising a glass as though there would be a toast to God’s goodness. I watched too many movies and I guess Scrooge drinking was etched in my brain.
Ebenezer means stone of help and is found in 1 Samuel 7:12, set up as a stone of commemoration of how God helped the Israelites. When they walked by the ebenezer, they were to remember God’s goodness. 12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,[b] saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
I imagine the remembrance of the Lord’s help was a combination of joy mixed with sorrow. Some Israelites never got to see the stone and the survivor’s memories of their loved ones no doubt held pain. Some may have wondered why the help seemed to stop or what the point of the help is if there isn’t continued rest in the place they found themselves. I wonder if after the last few years, we may also be raising our ebenezers in remembrance while being conflicted as to how to feel about it.
We are complicated beings and rarely experience one pure emotion. The joy of birth is forged through pain. The loss of a suffering loved one leaves our tears communicating both loss and relief and often self judgement for feeling any of it. I find it fitting to raise my ebenezer and acknowledge the competing emotions it brings after this stressful time of pandemics, political conundrums, job loss, schooling, and, and, and – it has been a doozie of time!
And still, I find myself worshiping during the Christmas season with a grounded sense of what hope is. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We may feel the darkness and wonder if the light will ever shine again. Perhaps the ebenezer was bumped into a time or two after sunset or before sunrise, in carelessness. Perhaps we need to walk directly into, around, next to, and climb all over that ebenezer to remember the help we have. He has been our help and he will be our help again.
So, in this complicated time, may we see with fresh eyes the beauty of the gift of Emmanuel, God with us. Regardless of the stresses of the socioeconomic, religious, political, abusive, or any other system we may be encountering, he is with us. He is our help, and we can bring all our complicated feelings to him. And like the first Christmas, may you see the light shining in the darkness illuminating your ebenezer and celebrate the one who is still with us.