Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits, Chapter 14

     (By request, I'm posting the final chapter of Ebenezer Christian and the Three Christmas Spirits.  If you want to read the story from the beginning click the link for the stand-alone page listing the table of contents for this story, here)
Chapter Fourteen
Finding a Room for Jose and Miriam
     Ebenezer Christian stopped his narrative when he reached the point in the story that the spirit had told him that Jose and Miriam Santo were going to freeze to death in the snow. He and Mary Martha had the same thoughts at that instant: Was it true, and could they be saved?
     They dressed as quickly as they could and headed for the door.
     In less than fifteen minutes, they reached the icy bridge. Apart from the stones that had been piled at either side underneath the bridges—stones that now were covered with snow—they saw no indication that anything was wrong.
     Ebenezer Christian bolted from his car and rushed to the creek bank at the side of the bridge. With a little tugging, the rocks rolled from their position as he pulled them, one after another. They tumbled into the frozen creek, cracking the ice as they fell. Ebenezer Christian called out, "Jose! Miriam! Are you okay?"
     There was no answer.
     He pulled a few more rocks away and saw the couple lying asleep next to each other. He shook Jose Santo. "Jose! Wake up!"
     Jose Santo groggily stirred. He was too groggy. Ebenezer Christian recognized his condition as an early stage of hypothermia and began rubbing the man's arms and legs. He called to Mary Martha, who rushed under the bridge to help warm Miriam Santo.
     Miriam first, then Jose, Ebenezer and Mary Martha Christian helped the unfortunate couple into their car.
     A visit to the hospital on Jericho Road revealed that they were in no need of hospitalization. Father, mother and baby would be fine. A visit to the local inn proved a waste of time. Because of the influx of holiday travelers, there was—excuse me—no room for them in the inn.
     Fortunately, Buffy was kind enough to offer the Santos her room until they were fit to travel again.
     In the early morning hours of Christmas day, Miriam Santo gave birth to a boy.
     I won't disappoint you. They named the child Jesus (pronounced, "Hey-SOOS") Manuel (pronounced “Man-UEL,” in case you needed help on that one). Since, in Spanish culture, the mother's maiden surname is tacked onto the end of the child's name, the newborn son of Jose Santo and Miriam del Rey Santos became Jesus Manuel Santo del Rey. He would become known as Jesus Santo.
     (Before you try to draw too much theological significance from the name Jesus Santo, I caution you that allegories have their limits. In other words, don't try; just enjoy the story.)
     At a Christmas candle lighting service, the First Baptist Church of Bedford Falls learned the story as you've read it thus far. That same evening, Cooper Grady learned of it by telephone. As there was a reporter for the Bedford Falls Chronicle present at the candle lighting service, all of Bedford Falls learned of it the day after Christmas. A week later, the Jose and Miriam Santo were interviewed through a translator on the television program Good Morning, America.
     Donna van Doren, the owner of Van Doren Stables, saw the interview and wondered why no one had told her all this. In the incident involving her livery stable, she saw a way to save the building from the wrecker's ball and, at the same time, properly memorialize her grandfather Philip van Doren.
     With the help of donations from all over the Bedford Falls area, plus a hefty sum from her own bank account, Donna van Doren was able to convert the Van Doren Stables into a transient shelter. She further protected the building by mustering public support to have it added to the list of historic buildings.
     Unlike almost all other transient shelters, the Van Doren Stable would accept families without breaking them up. The "s" was dropped from the end of the name of the building. Though it was not legal to make even this small a change to a historic structure without something called a "variance,” few noticed, and no one objected, and no one told the Historical Commission. They were allowed to top the Van Doren Stable with a giant, illuminated star, provided that it didn't "constitute a permanent change" in the appearance of the building's exterior.
     Of course, the place would need resident managers 24 hours a day, which would necessitate the hiring of qualified people. That was no problem. Jose and Miriam Santo were available and spoke fluent Spanish (a skill which would sometimes be needed). Robert Mobley had had years of managerial experience and spoke English (two other skills that would be needed). The three would learn from each other.
     Then Robert Mobley, who had been a widower for several years remarried, and his bride Sarah moved into the shelter. The shelter then had four managers and 14 dogs.
     Leo Lockhart, the chairman of the spaying and neutering clinic, had Mrs. Mobley's dogs spayed and neutered. Eventually, several of the younger dogs found homes in the community; and some of the older dogs were adopted by transients who had grown to love them and later brought them to homes of their own.
     Sarah Mobley's son moved his young family into the mother's old residence and proceeded to restore it to its former elegance. This home, brightened by the family who now lives there, and no doubt cherishes Miss Sarah's memory, can still be seen today.
     Ebenezer Christian, having blown his chances of ever playing Santa Claus again, was able to volunteer extra help during the busy Christmas season. He wouldn't accept payment for his services, but always felt as though he was fully recompensed.
     Mary Martha Christian had begun to notice that her fellow choir singers would look at her askance whenever she had to sing a high note. She took this as a subtle hint and dropped out of the choir to spend more time doing volunteer work at the Van Doren Stable.
     Thousand-dollar suits and Parisian dresses have a way of staying home when their owners visit transient shelters. Ebenezer Christian's manner of dress became increasingly casual, and when his car reached retirement age, he sold it outright and discovered the conveniences of walking, bicycling, or taking a bus.
     When a man becomes casual in his dress, it's called casual. Mary Martha's casualness came to be called frumpy. She didn't mind, though. She was so absorbed in the joys doing the Lord's work among the needy that she scarcely noticed what anyone wore—least of all herself.
     Buffy spent more of her free time helping her classmates who were having trouble in college. Not limiting herself to helping the Chinese classmate we mentioned earlier, she cheerfully helped others, including fellow Americans. After all, it wasn't the nationality that needed help; it was the person, regardless of nationality.
     Their son Enoch needed time to adjust to having his father around, but, in time, Enoch and Ebenezer Christian developed a close father-and-son relationship.
     The Christian family became more careful in their purchasing habits, and searching the Internet for necessary information became an enjoyable family activity. After making themselves aware of the sources of the products they had been buying, the family often sat down to discuss which ones they should boycott and which they should favor.
     They also came to realize how they could raise their standards of living, live healthier, spend less money, and have less of a negative impact on the environment all at the same time.  How?  They did it by learning to think for themselves instead of letting advertisers limit their choices in life.  Instead of asking, "Which brand or product should I buy?" they asked themselves, "What benefits do I want, and what's the most reasonable way of getting those benefits?"  Of course, this strategy meant that they had to anticipate their needs, while their choices were broader, instead of waiting until the needs arose.
     How reliable was the information they had found on the Internet? That was always an important question. Is paper more "green" than plastic, or vice-versa? Does a certain writer's definition of a sweatshop apply to the factory he's accusing, or does it represent a step up from the life the worker had been living? Does that question really matter; that is to say, is there another factory somewhere producing the same kind of product under more humane conditions? As for slave labor, the Christian family needed little discussion: slavery is an unmitigated evil and must not be supported with consumer dollars under any circumstances.
     For discussing such matters as these (and many others), some people chose to condemn the Christian family as eccentrics, kooks, or even conspiracy theoriststhat is, people whose biases are not in accord with yours, especially if the beliefs require responsibility on the part of those who hold those beliefs.
     "I can't become a Christian because it has too many rules," non-believers often complained. "Now you Christians come along and add more rules."
     Ebenezer Christian's answer was direct. "Isn't it odd," he asked rhetorically, that you have two reasons for not becoming a Christian. Your second reason is that, if God is all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing and all-loving, He would do away with all suffering—human and animal—with a wave of His hand, by forcing people to do what we Christians do out of love? How can you be against doing these things voluntarily, while saying that God should force people to do them?" As the reader can see, Ebenezer Christian's experiences with the spirits had sharpened his insight.
     The Christian family's sharpest criticisms came from the people who rush into the church building every time the door swings open.
     "By your strange behavior," they fretted, "you're causing people not to want become Christians. People don't want to become involved in anything strange. If you show them that you're the same as they are, they'll want to become more like you." Read that sentence again. That's the way some professing Christians talk, and, to them, it sounds perfectly reasonable.
     Meanwhile, many people seeking rest trekked into the stable beneath the Star of Bethlehem; and there they found the rest Our Lord and Savior has promised.
     The Christian family cancelled their plans to visit a nationally-famous theme park during their summer vacation, opting instead to spend the money on season tickets to the George Bailey Memorial Cultural Center.
     No doubt, some readers who still haven't gotten the message may be wondering what tickets to cultural activities—however beneficial they may be—are doing in a Christian-oriented novella. The answer is simple, though, for some people, it may be difficult to accept.
     There is no area of human existence that is outside of God's concern.
     Music is a universal language; as such, it serves as a teacher for the soul. Some forms of music teach us compassion; others, beauty; and some forms of music teach us rebellion. Others animate us to some form of action. Still others teach other lessons, and we usually absorb those lessons unaware.
     Enoch was quick to notice a parallel between ballet and kung-fu; Buffy saw it as a form of figure skating without skates; and Ebenezer Christian it as a combination of gymnastics and fine art. They all marveled at what the human body was capable of doing; and they learned a deeper respect for the body and its Creator. Through the medium of ballet, they learned (without being aware of it) the social, cultural, and moral lessons implicit in a well-crafted story.
     The Broadway play Man of la Mancha was presented that year. Like most plays, novels and other productions, it was secular; but like all great productions, it was consistent with the wisdom of a long-established culture. When it is watched through Christian eyes, one can see even deeper meaning in it. Perhaps the creators of great works "speak better than they know,” or perhaps God speaks through the soul of a poet regardless of the medium the poet is using.
Every Sunday evening, they spent at least an hour discussing what they had read during the week, regardless of what they had read. They called this hour their literary digest.
     During one of their discussions, Ebenezer Christian chuckled over a phrase he'd often seen in the newspaper: that, in a certain country, the country's new leader was "swept into power,” as if the overthrow of her predecessor and the new leader's subsequent rise to power had been totally beyond her control. "Reality doesn't happen that way," Ebenezer Christian remarked. "The mere expenditure of excitement and energy doesn't get things done, although they may be used as a pretext. In politics, nothing happens by chance. Things rarely happen as planned; but nothing happens without a plan."
     Ebenezer and Mary Martha Christian rediscovered the classics, and Buffy and Enoch discovered them for the first time. They enjoyed making their own nominations for the "great national novel.”
     Undoubtedly, The Iliad and The Odyssey, taken as a single work, should be called the Great Greek Novel, notwithstanding that the works are epic poems rather than novels. War and Peace, The Divine Comedy (a three-volume epic poem), Don Quixote, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Journey to the West, for the Christian family, were recognized as the great novels of Russia, Italy, Spain, France, and China, respectively; although Ebenezer Christian argued that Les Miserables should be recognized as the Great French Novel. The collected works of Jules Verne received honorable mention.
     What about England and the United States? There was no agreement.
For England, Ivanhoe was favored by Enoch; The Compete Sherlock Holmes was favored by Ebenezer Christian. Mary Martha Christian and Buffy favored the collected works (nine volumes) of Jane Austen. Enoch's counter-argument was that, among those considered, only Ivanhoe qualified as a single novel. Ivanhoe, the others rebutted, was written by a Scotsman. Ebenezer favored Peter Pan for the distinction the great Scottish novel, although none of it was set in Scotland.
     None could think of a book that qualified as the Great American Novel, although Huckleberry Finn and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz were seriously considered. They allowed The Complete Short Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe to stand as "the greatest work of American literature." In that category, Walden received honorable mention.
     They discussed the social, religious, and other implications of each thing they reported having read, without regard for whether it was poetry, a novel, an article on seashelling or some other type of book or article. Each member of the Christian family learned from the others.
     The Christian family continues to love Christmas. In fact, they love it now more than ever.
     They have come to realize that you don't "celebrate Christmas” because Christmas is itself a celebration. They don't have to impose upon themselves the contrived joy that, for some unfathomable reason, people believe you're supposed to have during the Christmas season. Their joy is real because they're filled to overflowing with God's love, and they want to share His love with others.
     Two thousand years ago, God sent His Son to a sinful world, not to condemn it but to save it. God loved the world so much, that He sent his only begotten Son [emphasis added, since Christians are His sons and daughters by adoption]; that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life and life more abundantly.

Amen

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