by ProfDave, ©2020
(Dec. 9, 2020) — I think everybody should celebrate Hanukah. The menorah has more to do with Christmas than elves and reindeer. Well, maybe it’s too late to come up with the eight gifts for the eight days and all that. But stop for a moment and think about what Hanukah means and celebrate in your heart.
Three reasons: 1. Jesus celebrated it. He made a three-day journey on foot from Galilee to celebrate the holiday of “mirth and gladness” in Jerusalem. Did He celebrate Christmas? Probably not – we don’t know that first-century Jews celebrated birthdays or that it really was December 25. 2. Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s day, so why not Jewish on Hanukah? It is a celebration of Jewish independence and religious freedom. We in the West owe a great cultural debt to the Jewish people – Christians especially (the Old Testament and the Messiah for starters). If Antiochus Epiphanes had had his way we wouldn’t have any of it. 3. Hanukah celebrates religious integrity in a sea of apostasy and syncretism. The Seleucid Empire was a melting pot of peoples and religions from Asia Minor to India held together by Greeks. The vision of its rulers was that every people needed to speak Greek and merge their cultures and religions in order to achieve unity – tolerance and diversity. Every temple should honor all the gods. Other cities had no problem expanding their pantheons, so why not a statue of Zeus in the temple in Jerusalem? Why should Jews be allowed to worship only One G*d? But there really is only one G*d, and He proved it. And He will. Thank you, Israel. Celebrate!
Hanukkah/Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, 165 BC/BCE. When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire about 150 years earlier, Palestine was a peaceful part of it. Some credit him with a grand scheme of uniting the world as one people. When he died prematurely the Empire was split into four parts, as prophesied by Daniel. The cosmopolitan Greek influence of this period (called Hellenistic) permanently divided Europe between East and West. After a couple changes of hands, Palestine wound up in the Seleucid, or Syrian-Greek Empire. To bind together diverse peoples from Asia Minor to India, the Seleucid policy was to aggressively spread Greek language and culture, encourage intermarriage, and merge religions. Many Jews resisted, but were tolerated until Antiochus IV launched a campaign of enforced Hellenization in Palestine, requiring pagan worship in the very Temple of Jerusalem – among other things. Little Judea rose in rebellion and miraculously succeeded in maintaining independence for a century – until crushed by Rome. This was symbolized by the smaller miracle of the Menorah (the sacred lamp before the veil of the Holy of Holies) burning eight days when there was only holy oil enough for one night.
Jewish people celebrate the rededication publicly with lights – the Menorah – in their windows as a witness to the world that their G*d lives. Christians also put lights in their windows this time of year – to welcome G*d. As one Rabbi on the internet put it, “there certainly has never been a time when the message of the Chanukah lights has been more needed by societies that so thirst for meaning and spirituality.” Amen!
Have you seen any Menorahs lately? Each one you see is proof of the existence of G*d – a Sovereign Supreme Being whose character is revealed in the Bible [note I’m using the Jewish spelling – the Name is so holy to them that you must never speak it or write it unless you change your pen and take a bath – hard to do on a computer]. I’m not a philosopher, astrophysicist, or paleontologist, but I am a historian. The existence of Israel – or just one Jewish home – is historical proof positive! How many times have they been exterminated? How many times have they been disbursed, absorbed, and assimilated? For five thousand years plus, the world has tried to chew them up and digest them. The existence of Israel is also proof positive of the grace and mercy of G*d. If you read the Bible, you know they’ve given G*d a hard time: at least three times the curses of Deuteronomy 28 have come upon them (does the Holocaust count?), but still He preserved a Remnant. So there is hope for us, too!
Today’s Message: “They were celebrating Hanukkah just then in Jerusalem. It was winter. Jesus was strolling in the Temple across Solomon’s Porch. The Jews [ie Judeans], circling him, said, ‘How long are you going to keep us guessing? If you’re the Messiah, tell us straight out.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you, but you don’t believe. Everything I have done has been authorized by my Father, actions that speak louder than words.’” John 10:22-25. They tried to stone him. This group were looking for the Messiah to do to the Romans what the Maccabeans had done to the Greeks 190 years before, but Jesus had a higher mission: to represent the Father on earth and redeem all mankind, not from Rome, but from wickedness. Has He redeemed you yet?
Chanukah is about the reality of the Transcendent G*d. Christmas is about the imminence of G*d, “a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name Him Immanuel (G*d-With-Us).” Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23. G*d with us! Do we have any idea what that means? The Eternal, the Holy One, JHWH, the I-AM, the Logos, the WORD became flesh and camped among us. The Eternal became mortal. The Infinite became finite – became a fetus. Became human – making human life sacred in a whole new way. God takes on human form in the Torah to speak to Abraham – a man, who, when he opened his mouth, God spoke. But this was different. God born. The WORD learning to speak. The author of the Bible learning Torah. The Holy One having a Bar Mitzvah and learning a trade. The Creator learning to build houses. The sinless one baptized. We (not the Jews, but all of us) nailed Him to a cross – and He let us do it! Then the immortal died. But that’s not the end. In Him, the mortal rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven! “G*d was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” G*d with us!
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.