Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, Chapter 5

     At this writing, Christmas is only twelve 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 that 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 coming days, I intend to post each of the fourteen chapters and addendum to Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits. The following is Chapter Five.  For the Table of Contents to Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, click HERE.

Chapter Five
Yet a Third Uncomfortable Encounter
       Ebenezer Christian handled the first order of personal business fairly quickly.
     Earlier in the day, he had handed the key to his home to the department store's electrician with the understanding that he would install a chandelier over the grand piano while everyone was out of the house. It would be a surprise for his wife Mary Martha Christian.
     He had given Mary Martha Christian the grand piano the previous Christmas. The silver candelabra Ebenezer Christian had given her during one of his pre-Santa Christmas seasons would be moved to a permanent position on the mahogany dinner table that had been Ebenezer Christian's gift to her two Christmases ago.
     The electrician returned Ebenezer Christian's key to him and reported that his mission had been accomplished without a hitch.
     Ebenezer Christian's next stop was the jewelry department of Stewart's Department Store.  There, he approached the sales clerk, a college student who had been hired for the Christmas season. "May I help you?" she smiled for the six-hundredth time that day. (Her mouth was getting a little sore from all that grinning when nothing was funny.)
   "Yes, please," Ebenezer Christian replied. "Could I see the women's necklaces with crucifixes?"
     "Excuse me? What are crucifixes?"
     "A crucifix is a cross."
     "Oh. There's very popular this year," she said automatically, for everything people request is supposed to be very popular that year. "Would you like one with or without the little man on it?"
     "The `little man,’ as you call him," came the icy reply, "is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
     "Oh, I didn't mean it like that. It's just that a lot of women want to wear crosses for reasons of style. To them it doesn't have any religious meaning. A lot of them would rather have a cross without the—um—Jesus.”
     Ebenezer Christian heard a man's voice say to him: "And a lot of people would rather have Jesus without the cross."
     He turned and looked at the man who'd made that remark. He recognized the man as Cooper Grady—some garage mechanic who fancied himself a minister. He was a short, wizened little man with a pronounced stoop and deep wrinkles that made him look much older than his fifty-odd years. His nasal-labial folds made his mouth look much larger than it really was, and his face was etched with a permanent, beatific smile. Once a week, Cooper Grady cleaned enough grease from his hands to stand before a few dozen hillbillies congregating in a cinder-block building, where he impersonated a Pentacostal minister.
     Grady and his wife lived simply on their small income. It was said that they spend most of their free time visiting the sick and the needy, including those who attended other churches or no church at all.
     He certainly couldn't be faulted for his goodness. Ebenezer Christian was turned off by other things about the man. How, for example, could a man who'd barely finished high school, and whose poor grammar bore witness to his lack of education, presume to know the Lord's will to the degree that he could instruct others in it? Ebenezer Christian himself possessed a master's degree and had taken college courses in religion. There was nothing, he thought, that this garage mechanic could teach him about the Lord's will.
     Pentecostals are noted for their unrestrained practices in church, including such improprieties as unintelligible babbling, arm-waving, and (here I must caution the reader to brace himself) dancing. Those who are particularly ignorant and especially out of touch with reality—now get this: they believe that the Lord performs actual miracles the way He did in Biblical times.
     Ebenezer Christian had learned in one of his religion classes in college that people today should take a more refined view of miracles. For example, when a grape vine draws water from the ground, changes it into grape juice, and it later becomes wine, it all takes place by a process created by God. Is that any less miraculous than Jesus' miracle at Cana? People in Biblical times needed miracles of the Biblical type, Ebenezer Christian learned, but people today no longer need them to understand the Lord's nature.
     Ebenezer Christian was once arm-twisted into attending a Pentecostal Christmas service a few years earlier, and he was aghast at their blasphemy. At one point in the service, when they danced and capered about like lunatics, Cooper Grady had the effrontery to say that the angels must have behaved in a similar manner when they announced Jesus' birth to the shepherds.
     (Everyone knows, of course, that when Biblical angels gave messages to men, they always stood regally and spoke in sonorous intonations.)
     "I read a newspaper article the other day," Cooper Grady said almost carelessly.
     "And what did it say?" The words escaped Ebenezer Christian's lips with equal carelessness. He didn't really want to know.
     "It said that the Christmas capital of America is Rockefeller Center." Ebenezer Christian looked at him blankly. Cooper Grady continued, "People are always saying they wish the Christmas spirit could last throughout the year. In a way, it does because, to most people—including Christians—Christmas is more a secular holiday than a celebration of Jesus' birth.  Most people spend the entire year paying interest on their credit cards for Christmas gifts they buy. You're holding the Christmas spirit in your hand."
     It took Ebenezer Christian less than a second to look at the bank card in his hand. When he looked up again, Cooper Grady was gone. Ebenezer Christian quickly looked around and asked the sales lady, "Where is he?"
     "Where's who?"
     "The little man that was just here."
     "Oh," she said painting her professional smile back onto her face, relieved that she hadn't lost a sale. "It's right here." She was referring to the crucifix.
     "No, I mean—um—Never mind."
     "Are you all right?"
      "Oh, yes, of course. I'll—um—I’ll look at the cross later." As he turned to leave, he turned back to the sales clerk and muttered, "Merry Christmas."
     “Merry Christmas," she beamed, and she drew out the next few words, "and have a nice day!”

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