Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits" Chapter One

     At this writing, Christmas is only eighteen days away.  In 2002, a few weeks after Christmas, I wrote this novella as a reaction against the way Christmas has become a racket.  Many of the worst offenders are professing Christians who have bought into the Christmas racket and are contributing to the world's problems by participating in the Christmas racket.
     Being busy for the church is not the same thing as being active for the Lord.  We need to reconnect with the world, and we need to rethink Christmas.
     Over the next two weeks, I intend to post each of the fourteen chapters and addendum to Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits.  The following is Chapter One.  For the Table of Contents to Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, click here.
Chapter One: 
The Family that Loved Christmas
     No one in Bedford Falls loved Christmas more than Ebenezer Christian and his wife Mary Martha, and few were more active in the First Baptist Church of Bedford Falls.
     Most months of the year, Mary Martha attended a women's Bible study group every Tuesday night, choir practice every Wednesday night, and she visited shut-ins every Saturday. She was among the first to volunteer for church bake-offs and other church-related activities.
     After the end of Thanksgiving, however, Mary Martha was busy every night with the choir, practicing for the church Christmas program. Since she spent her weekdays as an administrative assistant (that's what they call secretaries these days) to the Bedford Falls High School principal, she was left with little time to call her own.
     She usually spent her free time watching a set of video discs which gave her Biblical insights on how to lose weight. I'll bet most of you didn't know that the Lord is vitally interested in keeping women as watchable as possible or that God feels that He must subscribe to the ever-changing societal dictates of how much weight a woman should carry; but the yappy woman you see on these discs makes a very convincing case for it. It's only a matter of time before we hear of a line of products called Rose of Sharon Cosmetics.
     Ebenezer Christian was especially fond of Christmas and church activities, though in the last few years, he saw fit to drop out of the choir. His voice had been getting less appealing, and the choir director diplomatically suggested that he sing a bit more softly. One night at choir practice, he moved his lips without making a sound, and the choir director said that was the best the choir had ever performed.
     After that, Ebenezer Christian decided he was better suited for teaching Sunday school. At his church, classes are segregated by gender in order to test their faith. Undeniably, more teenagers and unmarried adults prefer going to churches that offer some prospect of meeting a girlfriend or boyfriend. Nonetheless, that's not the reason people should want to go to church. First Baptist Church of Bedford Falls takes the position that, if worshiping the Lord isn't your sole reason for going to church, you shouldn't go.
     In church services, and at other church functions, the pastor (or someone else) usually called upon Ebenezer to offer prayers from the congregation. You see, after years of practice, he had become very good at public prayers.
     He used to save up all his prayers for the occasions when he was called upon to pray, but he sometimes had a hard time remembering the entire prayer list that had lengthened during the day (or week). Then he discovered that by praying about those matters as they arose, he at least had fixed them in his mind for future reference. Thus, when someone called upon him to pray, he was better able to remember his prayer list. It didn't bother him that he'd already prayed about these matters before; the important thing is, he was capable of offering impressive prayers when the need arose.
     By observing others at prayer, and with much practice, he was able to make his prayers more eloquent. He could easily rattle off such phrases as, “We humbly beseech Thee," and such words as propitiation. Members of the congregation would get goose bumps by the way Ebenezer Christian's voice trembled when he spoke Jesus' name in prayer; and, when he spoke the name of God, his voice rumbled across the room like thunder from the clouds over Mount Sinai.
     Everyone at Bedford Falls Baptist Church agreed (or, at least, no one disagreed) that Ebenezer Christian's public prayers were truly inspirational; and all who voiced an opinion on the matter took this as evidence that he stood in good with the Lord.
     All manner of ad hoc programs come up at church, and Ebenezer Christian was always happy to get involved, whenever his schedule allowed.
     During his stint as a department store Santa, his wife Mary Martha brought him a yellow ribbon to sign for a member who was getting out of prison after almost two years of incarceration. (Incarceration is the kinder and gentler term for the slammer. There they used to punish prisoners by feeding them bread and water. Nowadays, prisoners are rewarded by serving them croissants and Perrier. It's amazing how French words can turn hardship into pleasure.)
     Oh, no, don't get the wrong idea. The church member wasn't a criminal or anything like that. About two years earlier, in a nearby city, he had double-parked his car. That's all he did. He wasn't even in the car at the time of the accident. Another driver drove around his car, slammed head-on into a car that was coming from the other direction, and the second driver was killed instantly.
     The churchgoer was unfortunate enough to get a judge known as "Maximum John" Letourneau as well as a prosecutor who'd had political ambitions. His family responsibilities, piety, and fidelity to the church were not even taken into consideration (the latter two may even have worked against him). Five years was the penalty, but, in less than two, the Lord saw fit to have this good man released on parole.
     Everyone, especially Ebenezer Christian, felt that the yellow ribbon party would be a great Christmas present for a persecuted Christian. On the yellow ribbon that was displayed with his signature, Ebenezer Christian wrote, "It's okay. It could have happened to anybody."
     Most times of the year, Ebenezer Christian's life was every bit as packed with church activities as Mary Martha's. The three weeks leading up to Christmas, however, was a special time for him. You see, he garnered four weeks of vacation time each year from his work as a county agricultural agent, and he used three of those four weeks to work as a department store Santa.
     Ebenezer worked long hours during those three weeks, but he was well-paid. He made almost as much money in three weeks as Santa Claus as he did the rest of the year as an agricultural agent.
     He was this well-paid for several reasons.
     He looked the part. He was a jolly, roly-poly man with a full white beard. Once his beard was properly bleached and curled, and Ebenezer was fitted into a bright, red costume lined with white fake fur, he looked just like the symbol that has been used by a certain soft drink company since the Great Depression.
     He acted the part. He enjoyed the attention he got from children, and he had thoroughly absorbed the Santa training the department store had given him.
     Finally, in keeping with his Santa training, he was familiar with the store's entire line of toys and other items that applied to children. He knew how to encourage the children to "want" only the things the store had in stock. If an appreciable number of children asked for the same item that the store didn't sell, he dutifully reported it to his manager. If possible, the store would have it on the shelves in time for Christmas.
     It somewhat bothered Ebenezer Christian that he had to work Sundays as well as other days. Still, didn't Jesus Himself say that it's all right to work on the Sabbath if the situation warrants it? Since Ebenezer and Martha were tithers, he was able to give as much to the church in December than in all other months combined. He also used much of his December windfall to lavish expensive gifts on his family and, yes, to pay for his daughter's college education.
     Buffy Christian attended nearby Bailey Christian College, where she was studying to become a missionary. Ever since she was thirteen, she "had a burden" (that's the Christian jargon for it) to go to China, to express the Lord's love for the Chinese people and to bring them to know and love Him.
     Ebenezer and Mary Martha had a younger son, Enoch, who'd be attending college in a few years.
   So, you see, for all the good Ebenezer Christian's extra income did to further the Lord's Kingdom on Earth, he was sure that the Lord smiled upon his Sunday labor.


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