I realize this is New Year’s Eve, and that it’s time to shift gears. In the days ahead, we’ll be turning off the Christmas lights and packing the decorations away for another year. For many, leaving Christmas behind can be a somewhat bittersweet experience. Some welcome the anticipation of getting their lives back to normal, but for a lot of people these days, getting back to “normal” means returning to a state of anxious uncertainty. So, before we totally abandon our season of celebrations, there was one more powerfully encouraging set of lights that was ignited from December 18-26 – one that most of us never noticed.
A Dismissive Tendency ~
Most of us who share a traditionally Western or American “Bible Belt” background in our Christianity have managed to do quite well in traversing the Decembers that have come and gone in our lives without devoting a single serious thought to what Hanukkah is really all about. We feel a kinship with other Jewish feasts and festivals, like Passover and Pentecost, because they’re prominent in the New Testament records. But if we do a word search for Hanukkah in the Bible, we come up empty. So, if we thought about Hanukkah at all, most of us dismissed it as a kind of “Jewish Christmas” and went back to focusing our attention toward the important “Christian” stuff, like our nativity sets, Christmas trees, yule logs, and fruit cakes.
But here’s an interesting thought. While much emphasis is understandably devoted to Jesus’ birth, none of the Gospel accounts ever mentions Jesus or anyone else celebrating the anniversary of that momentous event. On the other hand, there was another Jewish festival that Jesus celebrated annually. He, along with His family and His followers, celebrated what we know as Hanukkah every year. If you wonder whether there’s any New Testament Scriptural evidence to support that, the answer is a definitive, “Yes, there is.” John mentions it briefly in an almost off-handed way:
Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. (John 10:22–23 NKJV)
The word “Hanukkah” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “dedication,” and in Jesus’ day the celebration we refer to as Hanukkah was called “the Feast of Dedication.” In more modern times, it is often referred to as the “Festival of Lights.” The reason for both names will become clear a bit later, but for now, suffice it to say that Jesus was at the Temple in Jerusalem in observance of what we know as Hanukkah. If it was worth the time and effort it took for Him to travel from Galilee to Jerusalem to acknowledge the event, it is certainly worth our time and attention to consider what Hanukkah is about and perhaps celebrate it along with our Jewish friends..
The events that precipitated Hanukkah actually took place in that space between Malachi and Matthew in our Bibles. The approximately 400 years that elapsed between those books is often referred to as the “Intertestamental Period.” Some call it, “the Silent Years” because nothing in our canon of inspired Scriptures is attributed to that period. The lack of Biblical references makes it easy for us to ignore that period of time and assume that because God didn’t ordain a writing prophet in those days, He didn’t do anything noteworthy. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
A Lot Going On ~
Kingdoms and world powers were evolving just as Daniel prophesied that they would, and one of them played a significant role in the life of God’s people. Alexander the Great led Greece to world dominance during those years. As he conquered nations militarily, he also exported what became known as Hellenism. He made Greek language, literature, and philosophy predominant, and the Greek list of gods and goddesses began to replace other pagan idols. But Alexander’s strategy was not to force them into Hellenistic practices, but rather to offer them seductive enticements to lure them away from their religious and cultural traditions. So, the nations he subjugated were generally allowed to continue to exercise their religious rituals and carry on their cultural traditions – and trust the allures of sensual pleasure to draw them into Hellenism.
But then, at only 32 years old, Alexander died having no heirs, and his empire disintegrated into 40 years of internal warfare and power struggles between four of his confidants and military generals. Judah initially fell under the control of the Ptolemies, who ruled Egypt and northern Africa, but the Seleucids eventually defeated them – and soon everything began to change.
A Seleucid ruler named Antiochus IV came to power and was viciously intent on eliminating Judaism altogether and replacing it with Hellenism. He demanded that Greek be spoken instead of Hebrew. All expressions of Jewish faith were outlawed, including destroying every copy of the Torah (the 5 books of Moses) he could find. He forbade the practice of circumcision. If a woman was found with a circumcised child, both the child and its mother were killed, and her dead child’s body was hung around her neck. He thoroughly desecrated the Temple by offering pigs on the altar, defiling everything in the Temple with their blood. He choked the Jewish priests to death by stuffing swine blood and flesh down their throats. He adopted the title, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, or the god-man. His fanatic desecration reached its zenith when he erected an image of himself in the Holy of Holies. It was the darkest of times. The enemy had not only invaded their land, but he had destroyed or defiled everything that defined who the Jews were and what they believed.
Tide Begins to Turn ~
A turning point in Antiochus’ maniacal persecution of Judaism came in 167 BC when a priest named Mattathias saw a younger priest offering sacrifices to the self-appointed god. The old priest proclaimed, “No more!” and he rose up and killed the idolatrous young priest. Mattathias and his five sons then led a rebellion that became known as the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BC). Eventually this band of incredibly courageous Jews, led by Mattathias’ oldest son, Judas Maccabeus, defeated Antiochus and regained control of Jerusalem.
When they were finally able to enter their beloved Temple in Jerusalem, it had become a desecrated, filthy shambles. Every holy thing had been defiled, and every sacred thing damaged, destroyed, or made unusable. The lamp that represented the “eternal flame” of God’s presence had gone out, and for some time, it had looked like it might never burn again.
As they began the process of repairing and restoring the Temple, they found only one small vial of the specially consecrated oil that was permitted to be used in the lamp. The vial they found barely had enough oil to last one day, but the process of cleansing the Temple and preparing and consecrating more oil would take eight days. Knowing that they couldn’t possibly get the Temple ready and properly consecrate more oil before the flame went out again, they lit the lamp anyway.
Not Impossible After All ~
The first day came and went, but the flame kept burning. The next day came and went – and the darkness lost again. Day after day followed, and the flame burned hope into those working feverishly to cleanse and repair the Temple. In eight days, fresh oil had been prepared and consecrated, and, miraculously, the flame had never flickered – God’s Light of hope never went out. On the 25th of Kislev, 164 BC (Jewish calendar), the Temple was rededicated and the worship of God was revived. From that time to this, the 8-day “Feast of Dedication” (or “Hanukkah,” or “Festival of Lights”) that Jesus and His followers attended has lived on and been celebrated every winter.
Our hearts are joined with Jesus and our Jewish friends now when we light our Hanukkah candles pictured in the banner above. We think about the times when the enemy has invaded and defiled everything our heritage represents. We remember episodes when the holy things in our lives were desecrated. We remember wondering if the flame of God’s presence had gone out for good, but then, somehow, a little vial with just enough oil to give hope showed up. The tiny bit of oil those ancient Jews found didn’t look like enough, but in faith and hope, they lit it anyway. So did we, and God showed up to keep it burning until our mess was cleaned up.
A time like that exists in our nation today. The enemy has invaded our land, and it seems like every sacred thing we have has been destroyed or defiled, and everything that defines who we are and what we believe is systematically becoming outlawed. But when we light our Hanukkah candles, we get a fresh wave of hope that even though it doesn’t look like we have enough, if we ignite the oil we do have and focus on cleansing our desecrated temples, we’ll find out once again that God’s light will outlast their darkness.
In that hope and along with our love, we offer our prayer that each of us will experience and expose the eternal flame of God’s presence “every” day in the year to come.
Happy New Year ~ and a Somewhat Belated “Happy Hanukkah”
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “A turning point in Antiochus’ maniacal persecution of Judaism came in 167 BC when a priest named Mattathias saw a younger priest offering sacrifices to the self-appointed god. The old priest proclaimed, “No more!” and he rose up and killed the idolatrous young priest.”@GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “When the Jews were finally able to enter their beloved Temple in Jerusalem, every holy and sacred thing had been defiled, damaged, or destroyed. The lamp representing the eternal flame of God’s presence had gone out and it had looked like it might never burn again.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “As they began to repair & restore the Temple, the vial they found barely had enough oil to last one day. Knowing that they couldn’t possibly cleanse the Temple and properly consecrate 8 days’ worth of oil before the flame went out, they lit the lamp anyway.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “We think about when the enemy invaded & defiled everything our heritage represents & the holy things in our lives were desecrated. We wondered if the flame of God’s presence had gone out for good. Then a little vial with just enough oil to give hope showed up.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The tiny bit of oil those ancient Jews found didn’t look like enough, but in faith and hope, they lit it anyway. So did we, and God showed up to keep it burning ‘til our mess was cleaned up.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “When we light our Hanukkah candles, we get a fresh wave of hope that even though it doesn’t look like we have enough, if we ignite the oil we do have and focus on cleansing our desecrated temples, we’ll find out once again that God’s light will outlast their darkness.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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