What most people think of when they hear the proper noun in my title–if they think of anything at all–is the protagonist of A Christmas Carol. And since I can’t let a reference to Charles Dickens pass without pausing on it, let me digress before I even begin. My guess is that Dickens chose the name “Ebenezer Scrooge” for its sound. Dickens tended to choose names for that reason, and this particular name is odd and old-fashioned like its owner, but also harsh like its owner, with all those long vowels and hard consonants. “Ebenezer” is the type of obscure Old Testament name that might be given to the child of people who subscribed to the type of bleak, joyless religion that Dickens so hated. (Dickens fan fiction writers–I know there are a few of you out there–here’s a topic for you.) Whether Dickens intended it or not, the name may also have a deeper significance in a story about a person reaching a milestone in his life. And it gets even more interesting: his pivotal moment takes place at a literal stone–a memorial stone.
That’s significant because the name “Ebenezer” was originally given to a stone set up by Samuel the prophet. The word literally means “stone of help,” and when Samuel dedicated it, he said, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). This statement is quoted almost verbatim in my favorite hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which I in turn quoted in my title for today. Here’s the full line, addressed to God: “Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’m come / And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” A similar idea occurs in another beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace”: “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come / ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about this concept of stopping and looking back on the road by which God has led me to this point and looking forward in hope–the theological kind of hope, which has a sure basis. (By the way, it’s almost impossible to talk about this concept without using road metaphors; even the word “milestone” comes from road travel.) One reason it’s been on my mind is that last week I had to write my salvation testimony and reflect on my spiritual growth over the years since then. I closed my response by referring to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I don’t know where he will lead me next, I said, but I trust that he will lead me into green pastures and beside still waters (and sometimes through the valley of the shadow of death, but never to stay there).
I’m also thinking about the Ebenezer stone because it seems that change is in the air–for an unusual number of people around me, and maybe even for me. I used to be afraid of change. I was scared of not being able to control how things changed. The so-called butterfly effect–the idea that if I go a different route to work this morning, I could change the whole trajectory of my day and even my life and maybe even THE WHOLE OF HUMAN HISTORY–didn’t make me feel powerful; it terrified me. But I’m coming to understand and trust that God’s guiding hand–what old historians and theologians called Providence–is working to shape those events. I’m not in control, and that is a very good thing. I probably wouldn’t have chosen the job I’m in, the friends I have, or–dare I say–the family I belong to, and yet these are the greatest blessings of my life. God has brought me to a good place, and he will continue to guide me. Ebenezer!