For many people, Christmas can be a tremendous difficulty. A death, a divorce, and devastation can make this season a lonely, sad time. While others are enjoying their gingerbread houses and singing along with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” for others, Christmas can be a time when the most painful memories are acutely felt. For the single parent, there is no use for mistletoe, no one to cozy up next to by the fireplace, and the song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is a gut punch in every way. For parents with a sick child, the merriment and “Peace on Earth” sentiments are often replaced with worry and even fear. Money is tight, wounds are raw, fatigue is real, and everything just feels… pointless.
I remember my first Christmas as a single mother. My divorce had just been finalized, my heart was broken, and my children and I were trying to adjust to a new home and a new life. I was very lonely, very cynical, and I just wasn’t in the mood to be festive or jolly at all. My cup of yuletide cheer was more like sour eggnog, and my season’s greetings were more along the lines of Ebenezer Scrooge. Bah humbug. All I could think about was how wrecked my life felt and how much I didn’t want it to be that way.
On a cold December evening, after listening to the non-stop pleas from my children, I put a ballcap on, grabbed my purse, loaded everyone up in the car, and we drove to a store in search of a Christmas tree. Once home, with a tree in tow, it only took seconds for me to dissolve into tears. The box of Christmas ornaments that I had dragged down from the attic were full of memories of happier times, but right then, my life felt so empty with no joy on the horizon. My friends and neighbors were decorating and celebrating the season but I felt like a tangled mess of Christmas lights with burnt-out bulbs. The wonder was gone. The joy was gone.
What I had forgotten was God. I had slipped into the ditch we sometimes find ourselves in, viewing Christmas as a holiday of stuff and fun, instead of a sacred time of worshiping a faithful God.
Here I Raise My Ebenezer
In 1758 at the age of 22, a young pastor by the name of Robert Robinson penned the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” At the beginning of the second verse of this beautiful hymn, Robinson wrote, Here I raise my Ebenezer; Hither by Thy help I’ve come. Robinson was referring to 1 Samuel 7:12 when the prophet, Samuel, took a great stone and raised it up as a visual reminder of the victory God had given to Israel in their time of trouble.
Israel had been at war with the Philistines and the people were tired, and discouraged, and falling into sin because of their distrust in the Lord. Like us, they too easily and quickly forgot that God was faithful. Like we do, the people of Israel wondered if God was truly good. So, Samuel set the great stone up and called it, Ebenezer, which means, stone of help, and said, “The Lord has helped us this far.”
If you are wanting to throw a collective Bah humbug! to the world this Christmas, may I encourage you to exchange Ebenezer Scrooge for an Ebenezer of praise? Life may not look the way you want it to. You may have experienced disappointments and devastating loss. You may be walking through the worst thing you have ever had to endure. You may be in need of divine help. But God has helped you thus far. God’s presence has been near. God’s promises have never failed.
Making it practical
For the parent wrestling with holiday cheer, know that the same God who helped His people in the Bible is the same God who helps His people now. Your marital status may have changed, but His character has not changed. Your life may be chaotic and stressful, but He is still the God of peace and comfort. You may be lonely and grieving, and wondering what’s going to become of your life, but He is still on the throne ruling, sustaining, and loving.
This Advent, raise your Ebenezer and know that, because of Christmas, we have a Helper who will never leave us alone. His name is Jesus; Emmanuel, God with us.