Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. You can too!
I’ve got a confession to make. I celebrate Hanukkah…and I’m not Jewish! For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with this biblical holiday. Maybe it’s because Jesus celebrated it himself. (See John 10:22-23) Maybe it’s because I find that Hanukkah helps prepare me for a deeper celebration of Christmas. In fact, I’d like to be bold enough to suggest that if more Christians celebrated Hanukkah then perhaps we’d have an easier time keeping Christ in Christmas during the holiday season this year!
Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, is a biblical holiday that originated in 165 B.C. during the period between the times that the Old & New Testaments were written when Judas Maccabee and a band of Jewish freedom fighters freed Judea from Greek occupation and the Temple in Jerusalem was re-dedicated to the Lord as recorded in 1 Maccabees 4:36-59. As the temple was being re-dedicated, tradition has it that a miracle occurred. There was only enough purified oil to light the Temple menorah for one day, but instead it lasted eight days until more could be produced. This miracle is the basis for Jews lighting menorahs each night during the eight nights of Hanukkah.
In many ways, the Jews faced the same dilemma that we face this Christmas season. Their culture was being secularized as the Greeks tried to crowd God out of public life in Judea. We face the same thing today. Have you noticed how our culture is white washing everything referring to God, faith, and Jesus from Americana. The 10 Commandments have been stripped from our court houses and prayer as vanished from our schools. Even in this Christmas season, we have “Holiday trees” instead of “Christmas trees” and nativity scenes are disappearing from the public squares because people are afraid that any reference to God might offend. I work at Meijer as my “paying” job. I’ve noticed over the last couple of years that there seems to be something missing from the plethera of holiday decorations that you can buy: Jesus, who is the very reason for the season. Jesus has been moved to the sidelines, while Santa, snowmen, reindeer, and the like continue to take more and more of the prime retail focus. Within a few years, Jesus may disappear from the Christmas section all together!
Judas Maccabee noticed. He noticed how the Greeks tried to strip his people, his culture of their God given faith and identity. The last straw came when the Greeks even dared to place an idol of the Greek god Zeus in the Temple of the Lord. That’s when it happened. Judas led the revolt. He would not let God be deleted from his world! Judea was freed. The Temple was restored. The menorah was relit. God was given the place of numero uno once again.
This Christmas season, if we really want Jesus our Savior to be at the center of our celebrations, perhaps we ought to consider the story of Hanukkah as a challenge to follow. Perhaps we need to be like Judas Maccabee and spend time cleansing our “spiritual temples” of the distractions that attempt to overshadow the Babe of Bethlehem so that the light of Christ might shine brightly in our lives for all to see. I like to use the eight days of Hanukkah as an intentional time in the midst of the Advent season to prepare my “temple” so that Jesus can truly make himself at home in my life.
Finally, I believe that lighting the menorah during Hanukkah can help us better understand the One who has come to be the Light of the world. At the center of the Hanukkah menorah is a ninth candle lifted above the others, called the “Servant Candle,” that is used to light the other eight candles. Messianic Jews claim the “Servant Candle” represents Jesus the Messiah who came as a servant “who gives light to all who allow themselves to shine for God” (Matthew 20:28, John 8:12, Psalm 27:1). How brightly does Jesus shine in your life today? Maybe the eight nights of Hanukkah can give Jesus a chance to rekindle his light and love in your life.
Hanukkah isn’t just a holiday for Jews. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. You can too! Maybe it’s time we re-discovered some of the Jewish roots of our faith and make Hanukkah a time to help prepare ourselves for the Christ of Christmas.
What can my family and I do to celebrate Hanukkah? Follow this link for online Hanukkah games and coloring pages that your family can do together.
Also, I discovered this Hanukkah commercial on Youtube. I wish Christians could be as bold in declaring what Christmas really means to the world as this Jewish group does in sharing the power of God’s message through Hanukkah.