What is Hanukkah? (12/10)
Mark Barbee

Why would Christians be interested in Hanukkah (Chanukah)?  It is the last feast that was added to the Jewish calendar about 185 years before Christ’s birth.  We might mistakenly think it’s just a Jewish holiday around Christmas time.  But it represents an important event in the life of Israel that preceded Jesus, but was connected ultimately with Him.  It is also called the Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights.  

A terrible Syrian ruler named Antiochus tried to destroy the Jewish religion about 169 years before Jesus.  But Jewish freedom fighters resisted him.  He had desecrated the temple, but three and a half years later, the Jews regained the temple and began to consecrate it again.  They had only one day’s supply of consecrated oil for the sacred lampstand in the Holy Place.  They lit it anyway and it burned for eight days.  From then on the Jews celebrated this as the miracle of Hanukkah (or Lights).  They celebrate is with a nine branch menorah for eight days in December.  This year it starts on the tenth.  

We should note that Jesus celebrated this feast as recorded in John chapter ten.  It is easy to connect Jesus as the Light of the World to a feast that may have prefigured his coming into the world.  God honored the Jews who resisted evil and preserved them as a people until the Messiah could be born.  The feast reminds us that we should be faithful even in the face of persecution and that God will be faithful to us!  God’s ongoing preservation of Israel reminds us that he will preserve us as well.  

So why are there nine candles on this menorah for an eight day feast?  The middle candle of the menorah sits above the others and is used to light the others.  It is called the “servant”.  Interestingly, that is Isaiah’s designation for the Messiah who would be born of a virgin (7:14) and later sacrifice himself (Isaiah 53) for the sins of Israel and the entire world.  Isaiah also said that “nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (60:3) Furthermore, verse six of that same chapter mentions gold and incense.  Remind you of anything? 

The God who did miracles for Israel in the Old Covenant is still doing miracles for his children under the New Covenant of Jesus the Messiah.  Come to the light of Jesus today.  Bask in his glory for the eight days represented by the eight candles.  Pray for the Jewish people to be enlightened as to the true meaning of Christmas (the birth of the Messiah).  Perhaps this is why John wrote that Jesus was “the true light that was coming into the world.” (Jn. 1:9)  It’s no wonder that the gospel writer who had so much to say about Light would include a reference to Jesus celebrating Hanukkah.  Hopefully these thoughts will help to enhance your Christmas season.  

Lord, we thank you for the many ways that you signaled to Israel about their Messiah to come.  We thank you that we can see Jesus in the prophecies of the Old Covenant and in the history of the Jews before Christ.  We thank you for a festival of light; the light that lit your sanctuary in times past, and the present light of Jesus that lights our lives and the church wherever we gather as believers.  Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered, there am I with them.” (Matt. 18:20). 

Lord, we thank you that you have not forgotten your people Israel and your promises to them.  Their existence as a nation once again keeps their light burning and is an ongoing miracle.  Help them see the light of Messiah.

Lord, this Christmas season, let us celebrate the Light in our hearts, our homes, and in the church and everywhere we have the opportunity.  How the world needs the light of Jesus in dark times.  Help us to be like those candles that reflect his light!  He is the servant who lights our lives.  Praise you for his birth.