I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free! Psalm 119:32, NIV1984

Friday, December 14, 2012

Eight Nights, Eight Lights... The Story of Hanukkah and Christmas

What would you say if I told you that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah?

What would you think if you discovered that the only biblical reference to Hanukkah appears in the New Testament?

How would you respond if I told you that Hanukkah is not just a Jewish holiday, that without Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas?

It's true!

You see, during the years we commonly refer to as the "400 years of silence," the time during which we have no record of God giving His people any word through His prophets, the people of Israel came under the oppression of the Greco-Syrian Empire.  By 168 A.D., Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the ruthlessly cruel Syrian ruler, had destroyed Jerusalem in a flash of relentless anger and had completely desecrated the Temple of the Lord.  He then set out to annihilate the Jews, declaring that all Jews who would not embrace the culture and religious practices of Hellenism (pagan Greek religion and culture) must be put to death.  Faithful Jews fled to the hills to live in caves, but many were hunted down and viciously murdered by the savage Syrian armies.  Jewish history records the stories of devout Jews who, though brutally tortured and facing certain death, refused to turn from the Lord or dishonor His Name.

In the midst of this relentless persecution and oppression, one family among the Jewish people rose up to lead the people of Israel back to reclaim, restore, and rededicate the Temple of the Lord.  Led by the son known as Judah Maccabee ("the Hammer"), these sons of the priest, Mattathias, and those with them, eventually defeated the Syrian armies and reclaimed the Temple.  On Kislev 25, 165 B.C. (December of that year), the Maccabees rededicated the altar in the Temple of the Lord.

Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud, says that only one day's worth of pure oil remained in the Temple but that the menorah burned for eight days.  Jewish people, today, remember and celebrate that miracle by lighting eight lights for eight nights on their Hanukkiyahs (the nine-branch menorahs that hold one candle for each of the eight nights, plus one shammash (servant) candle which is used to light the others.)

So why does it matter to us?  What's the connection?

If Antiochus Ephiphanes and his soldiers had succeeded in annihilating the Jews, there would have been no Jewish baby born to be Messiah.

The reclaiming, restoring, and rededication of the Temple by those fiercely loyal Jews prepared the way for a certain young Jewish girl and her husband to take their baby boy to the Temple and place Him in the arms of Simeon, who proclaimed,

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of all people
a light for revelation to the Gentiles 
and for glory to your people, Israel.
Luke 2:29-32, NIV 1984

And the Gospel of John records that when that baby boy grew up...

"Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, 
the Feast of Dedication.  
He was in the Temple, walking through the section
 known as Solomon's Colonnade."  
John 10:22-23, NLT

So why celebrate Hanukkah?
Because Jesus did!

Why light eight lights during these eight nights?
Because it's not just a Jewish holiday!

It's a celebration of the faithfulness of our amazing God to preserve, against all odds, the people He had set apart for Himself, those through whom He had promised to send a Savior who would be the light of the world.

So light the candles!  And worship the Lord!  Celebrate!  Tell the whole world the great things our God has done!

Because in so doing, we remember how the Lord preserved His people and prepared the way for the coming King.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2, NIV 1984

The Word gave life to everything that was created,
And His life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
And the darkness can never extinguish it!
John 1:4-5, NLT


If you would like to know more about the Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, and how God used the events celebrated during this holiday to prepare the way of the Lord, I highly recommend the following resources:

The Feasts of the Lord, by Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal
The following articles by Dr. Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries
   "No Hanukkah, No Christmas"
   "Hanukkah and Christmas, Bridging the Great Divide"

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