“And he who sat upon the throne said; “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev.21:5)
Christmas and Chanukah. In our consumer world, the two religious holidays are somehow inextricably combined. For the observant and Orthodox Jewish who celebrate Chanukah, their holiday has been usurped as some sort of “Jewish Christmas.” This is an affront to everything Chanukah is about.
For the devout Christian, it sometimes feels as if Christmas is about everything except the actual birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem.
Both traditions have reason to feel that something of their identity has been usurped by those with no understanding or appreciation for the beauty and the grandeur that comes from these two Holy Days.
One, an epic battle against all odds for the fight for religious freedom. And the other, a story of humility as a homeless deity, becomes man and was born in cave in a foreign land.
For Roman Catholics, Christmas does not technically begin until the evening of the 24th of December and continues for 12 more days until the Epiphany on January 6.th There are different calendars in the liturgical Christian community, but most Christians would agree, that the liturgical calendar is a very different calendar than the secular materialist calendar. The secular world begins “The Holidays” somewhere near “Black Friday” and continues with various “Decembers to Remember ” sales events.
The secular world adherents observes the “Great Fast” beginning on January 1st and they offer obsequiousness at the altars of the gyms for at least four weeks into the Great New Year.
Four weeks; a month 28 days. A time of preparation. Advent. This is where the liturgical Christian begins anew. For the ancient liturgical churches, this begins the new liturgical year:
And in this time of preparation the “minor” Jewish feast of Chanukah can be found. But it can only be found in the Greek Bible, or the Septuagint.
Chanukah is an 8 day feast that will begin this year on December 4 and end on December 14. Chanukah (or Hanukkah or Hannukah), is the Hebrew word for “Dedication.” The story can only be found in the Greek Canon in the book of Maccabees. We know that Jesus celebrated Chanukah, which was also called the “dedication of the Temple” in John 10:22. It is here that the reader, who may be unfamiliar with the Book of Maccabees, would learn that this feast was celebrated in winter, and it was here that Jesus reveals that He and the Father are one.
Now the story of Chanukah takes place around 166 B.C., only about 170 years before the birth of Christ. During the reign of Alexander the Great, the Jewish lands were conquered, and the great student of Aristotle allowed the Jewish people to continue to practice of their ancient faith. But religious freedom ended when Alexander’s successor, Antiochus IV, forced the Jewish people to make unclean, unkosher sacrifices to false gods in the Jewish temple on the sacred altars. Eating, sacrificing pork and other abominable acts were intolerable to a man named Judas Maccabee. He led a resistance against the powerful Greek army with only a small band of faithful Jewish men near the Temple. And against all odds, the Maccabeans prevailed. According to tradition, at the time of the rededication of the temple, there was very little oil left that had not been profaned by the Greeks. Oil was needed to keep the seven branched menorah lit. This giant seven branched candelabrum lit the sanctuary in the temple.
Each candle represented the seven day creation. It was in the form of a bush commemorating the scene when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush on Mount Sinai. There was only enough oil to burn the menorah for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days. Eight was the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of consecrated olive oil. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.
So, what can the Christian learn from this Jewish holiday during this season of Advent?
- Forgotten and forsaken is never good: 1 and 2 Maccabees were purged from the Hebrew canon by the Jewish Sanhedrin after the destruction of Temple in 70 AD. The New Testament was written in Greek and the Sanhedrin decided no holy books could be written in the profane Greek. This meant they had to purge even some of their own historical and wisdom literature from their Tanakh (Bible). This included portions of the book of Esther and Daniel, the books of Tobit and Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch, Judith, and of course the two Maccabees. Indeed, the similarities between Jesus and Judas Maccabeus both of whom cleansed the temple (John 2: 14/ 2 Maccabees 10:2) would have been discomfiting to an ancient Jewish leader trying to get along with the Roman authorities after they had destroyed their temple. But as a result, even the Jewish people had lost this story. The story was remembered precisely because of the respect the ancient liturgical Christians had for their elder brothers of the Law.
- The light overcomes darkness. The menorah is lit at a doorway or on a windowsill facing the street, symbolizing its ability to illuminate the darkness of the night that pervades a world that does not know its Creator. The miracle of Chanukah took place in a time of darkness, when the Greeks, sought to impose their culture and their values on the Jewish people. The Maccabees stood up to an evil culture. Only a few were bold enough to say they would not assimilate to a world that defies their Traditions and their Laws. This meant sacrificing material goods, reputation and for some, ultimately their lives. So too, when we are confronted by a world that seems to know only darkness, we may be asked to lose our material goods and our good name. This does not mean we should despair nor resign ourselves to the darkness. We can’t place our hopes in elected officials or governments. We have to become a light to the world. Even if this means losing everything.
- All Scripture is Profitable: When Jesus celebrates the rededication of the temple in the Gospel of John, he does so by telling the Jewish people that he is doing good works in the name of his Father. This is precisely one of the main themes to be learned in both books of Maccabees. One need only read the 7th chapter in 2 Maccabees to see a woman of faith and courage in action as a portrait of how the Christian ought to be prepared to give testimony for one’s faith. Jesus taught that he was the Way, the Truth and the Light (John 14:6). Jesus tells the Jewish people in John 10:22 at the feast of the dedication, that he and the Father are one and that people will know him (and us) by works. Many who no longer have the book of Maccabees do not understand the Catholic doctrine of Faith and Works.” Sometimes we are accused of having a “works only salvation.” This is untrue. We merely believe that Faith, without Good works is dead. But works is necessary to the life of the Christian. Many of the ancient churches share this theology. And this is different than the modern idea of the reformed theology of Faith Alone. Sometimes, these “purged books” shed light on doctrines that may be unfamiliar to those who have never seen or read them. If a Bible ends in Malachi during the persian empire and then picks up in Rome. . .it is natural to see that those who include the Greek thought would have a broader understanding of history that includes the not only the Greek empire, but certain theological doctrines.
- God’s Sense of Time is Divine: The Jewish calendar is lunar and may not always correspond to the modern Gregorian calendar. No one knows for sure when Jesus was born. But the Old Testament is very clear about the exact date of the first Chanukah miracle. The miracle of light came on the 25th of the Jewish month of Chislev (2 Maccabees 10: 5) which just happens to correspond to the Gregorian month of December. 170 years before Christ, God was preparing the people living in darkness for an even greater miracle of the Light. . . of the World. I’m not saying its December 25. I’m just saying the BIBLE says this miracle took place on the 25th of Chislev which happens to correspond to December. I am also pointing out that this took place about 170 years before Jesus’ birth. Jewish people believe all Divine Revelation stopped during the Persian Empire about 350 years before the birth of Christ. This is why the Hebrew Canon of the Bible ends with Malachi. Perhaps God had more to reveal, not only in Christ, but also to the Jewish people during the time of the Greek occupation.
- Jesus and Judas Maccabee: Jesus like Judas disrupted the status quo. He challenged the ruling establishment with a small band of men around the temple. In John chapter 2, we read how Jesus also cleansed the temple. This time however, the people who were profaning the Sacred Temple were not the Greeks, but the authorities. And as Chanukah commemorates the time needed to make the sacred oil, the people with Jesus question him if he is, in fact, “The Christ” (John 10:24) the word “Christ” means “anointed.” And like Judas, Jesus would have to offer himself up so that the Temple that would be rededicated. Jesus foretold that the temple could be destroyed and then rebuilt in three days. But that promise would not be taking place on Chanukah. Our Chanukah would begin on a Gethsemane—which means the Mount of Olives. And the Christ would be made ready so that this anointed one of could become a light for the world.
- Servant to the People: Jewish people today commemorate this holiday with a nine day menorah. The light in the center represents the Shemash Candle, it is the “servant light” that is slightly elevated and is used to light the other candles and serves all others. Oil is used for healing, for light, for anointing. Oil can be Sacred. Left in the earth, it is useless. It requires human participation to make it useful. God needs our participation to bring the Sacred into the World.
- The body as a temple: Advent is a time of preparation. Scriptures tells us that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Advent reminds us, it would do well to cleanse our temple. We do this with the Sacrament of Confession. We do this so that the light of Christ may shine forth as a beacon to others in darkness. We do this in preparation for when the “Anointed One” comes again.
- The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. (Isa 9:2) the ancient world had a majestic temple. This world has only us. We have a light. We need to let it shine. Maranatha.