Christians often refer to the “time between the Testaments” a period of time that lasted from the time of Malachi to the time of Jesus - about 400 years. For the most part these were “the silent years” but something very significant happened in the land of Israel during that period that is still celebrated in Israel to this day. It is significant, and not without irony, in my opinion, that this celebration is one about light. In the midst of “the darkness” God shone forth in the miracle of Chanukah.
Chanukah means “dedication” and the festival of Chanukah celebrates rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem to God in 164BCE or 165BCE (depending on which sources your read) after the successful ‘rebellion’ of a small group of faithful Jews, who retook Jerusalem from the Hellenistic leader “Antiochus.”
At that time, Israel was under the political dominion of the Seleucids, whose king was Antiochus IV. They entered the precincts of the Temple and defiled it utterly. They also banned the study of the Torah and did everything they could to cause the Jewish people to be assimilated into the Hellenist way of life and to leave the worship of God. There was however a group of faithful Jews who put loyalty to their God before political expediency and led by a man called Matitiyahu and then later, his son Judah the Maccabee; this group rebelled against Antiochus IV. Antiochus tried to put down the rebellion, but eventually the “rebels” prevailed and succeeded in routing the Hellenists and they retook Jerusalem.
Having attained the military victory, they went back to their Temple, but they had to remove all the things which did not belong, and to restore those things which had been desecrated in the Temple and to rededicate to God. They wished to light the Menorah but they had to use pure oil that had not been desecrated by the Greeks. They searched the temple and found just enough to keep the Menorah lighted for just one day. It would take eight days to make more. They lit the menorah with that little amount of oil, and God kept it burning for the eight days that they needed to make more. This truly was a miracle and one worthy of commemoration.
So, Chanukah came into being. In doing research for this article, I realised that Chanukah has more in common with Christmas than the time of year in which it is celebrated.
- Christmas and Chanukah are not mentioned in the Bible.
- Both celebrate the lighting of a light – stay with me on this one. The Christmas ‘light’ is the coming into the world of the ‘light of the world’ (John 8:12), Jesus.
- Both celebrate a miracle – Chanukah: one day’s oil lasts eight, Christmas: The virgin birth.
- The followers of Judas the Maccabee, and Jesus the Nazarene, were regarded by their fellow Jews as rebels.
Is it appropriate for a Christian to celebrate Chanukah? I’d love to hear your opinions on that, but I say a resounding YES. Even though Chanukah is not mentioned in the Torah as a “prescribed feast” as is Pesach, Sukkoth, and Shavuot, we can see God’s hand in restoring worship of the true God in Israel during this time that there was no prophet in the land.
Christians are also not required to celebrate Christmas, but we do celebrate the miraculous birth of Jesus, coming into the world to redeem humanity from sin. Through Jesus, a person can be restored and rededicated to God.
As a part of the celebration of Chanukah, each of the eight evenings, people light an additional light on a special Chanukah Menorah (with nine lights – eight lights – plus a helper light). So on the first night, they light one, the second night two, etc. Maybe you don’t have a special menorah, but if you want to, why don’t you find nine candles (one can be a stumpy candle (as a helper) and line them up, and then light one (more) each evening (starting on 4th December this year.) As you do, say a prayer, and thank the Lord for the miracles that he performs.
One last word: it is sometimes easy to overlook the miracles that God does. ‘Simple’ things like making oil last longer than it normally does, can and often does get overlooked. I’m convinced that God does a Chanukah miracle in my petrol tank from time to time. Let’s give thanks to the lord for the “little interventions” that we may take for granted. In light of that, I have just had an operation. It was, I’m sure in terms of medical science, pretty ordinary and straight forward, but for me, the operation was a sign of God’s hand at work. I was told that I may experience bad pain after the operation, but I can testify here that I have had no more than a small degree of discomfort – God’s Hand at work.
I used a few references to ensure that I had an accurate account of what Chanukah is all about: Here they are:
http://www.aish.com/chanukahbasics/chanukahbasicsdefault/Matityahus_Revolt.asp (Some more background - I liked the following quote from this page:
For the Maccabees, it was not Jewish physical life that was at stake, but the spiritual life of the Jew. The name "Maccabee" is an acronym for the Torah verse "Who is compared to You among the mighty, oh Lord" (Exodus 15:11).
http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/329373/jewish/Eight-Lights-Eight-Lessons.htm (Excellent essay with a spiritual application to the festival of Chanukah, written by a Rabbi)
http://www.templemount.org/0240.html (Excellent essay on the Silent Years)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanukah (This is useful for a more full account of history that I could not go into in this article.)