If you have Jewish friends you know that the festival of Hanukkah is currently being celebrated. This morning I saw a funny video from some guys who call themselves the Maccabeats singing a song about the festival. My guess is that most Christians don’t know much about the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication as it is also called, so I thought I would post here explaining it a bit, with an encouragement to use this as a way to build relationships with Jewish friends.
Hanukkah celebrates a season in Jewish history that is called the Maccabean Revolt in 166 BC. At the time the Greek Empire ruled through four separate rulers who governed a section of the empire Alexander the Great conquered. One of those rulers, a man known as Antiochus Epiphanes led the Seluecids (part of the Greek empire) into Israel. He not only wanted to conquer the land, he also wanted to subdue the people and make them Greek, forcing them to abandon their belief in Yahweh as God substituting the belief in the pantheon of Greek Gods. When he came into the Jerusalem he defiled the city, and completely desecrated the Temple, calling it a Temple to Zeus and sacrificing a pig on the altar (using a pig was a direct slap in the face to Jews). A small family who would become known as the Maccabees started an insurrection. Using guerrilla warfare they conquered the Seluecid armies, drove Antiochus out of Jerusalem, and rededicated the Temple. The dedication included multiple sacrifices and the need to keep the lamps in the Temple continually burning, as commanded in the Old Testament Law. The problem was that they only had enough olive oil for one day (this is the tradition passed on in the Jewish Talmud). The miracle of Hanukkah begins with the miraculous victory over the much stronger Seluecids and Antiochus, but it includes the fact that the lights continues to burn for eight days, even though there was enough oil for only one.
Very quickly the eight day festival that takes place during our Christmas season is a reminder of God’s deliverance of His people and his miraculous provision. While we as Christians understand that Jesus is the ultimate light of the world, this holiday is a significant part of the story leading up to the coming of Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus celebrated this Festival. In John 10:22-30, Jesus is in the Temple celebrating the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) when he is questioned by the Jews. They ask him if he is the long-awaited Messiah. His answer is that the works he has done should be testimony enough, but they continue to reject him. The outcome is that the Jewish leaders want to destroy Jesus. They were celebrating the deliverance and provision of God for their nation, but completely missed God in the flesh in their midst. And, they rejected Jesus because they wanted a national hero, not a Savior who would deliver them from their greatest need, the sin in their lives. They lit candles to remember a hero, and missed the light of the world who was shining among them.
A couple thoughts with this before the video. First, learn about Hanukkah. If it was part of Jesus heritage, it is part of our story of faith as well. Not saying you should celebrate it, just know what it is about. That leads to the second thought. You may have friends who are Jewish. The Christmas season can lead to some interesting struggles for Jewish friends. They are celebrating their festival, but the rest of the world is thinking Christmas. Many times they can feel like outsiders, and some may even be ridiculed for not jumping on the Christmas bandwagon. I think it can be helpful to reach out to Jewish friends by acknowledging Hanukkah, either by wishing them a happy eight days, or by sending a card. That simple step could go a long way toward building a relationship where you might be able to show them the true light. God bless.