My wife and I have just returned from a Christmas Eve candle lighting service at our church. This was the first of two special services being held there this weekend. This year, Christmas is celebrated on Sunday and our church decided to hold a candle lighting service on Christmas Eve and replicate it on Christmas Day, itself. We attended tonight.
Now, on this Christmas Eve, I’m enjoying some cookies and hot chocolate and reflecting on the fact that Christians around the world are preparing tonight to celebrate tomorrow the birth of Jesus, who is called the Christ. But, tonight also begins this year’s extended celebration of Chanukah (sometimes spelled Hanukkah), for our Jewish friends. For those who may be Messianic Jewish believers, the two concurrent celebrations might be a bit schizophrenic! Let me explain.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth, whose Jewish and Gentile disciples worship as the prophesied Jewish Messiah. Jesus’ brief ministry on earth involved His going about preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, healing the sick and casting out demons.
The Gospel of John records (10:22) an occasion when Yeshua was in the Temple courtyard in Jerusalem, during the “Feast of Dedication.” This is what is known today as the Jewish eight-day feast of Chanukah, which means “dedication.” It is the celebration of the great miracle, when only one day’s supply of sanctified oil for a Temple oil lamp lasted eight days, as the Jewish people prayed and rededicated their Temple, after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes, the arrogant and evil Greek-Syrian ruler in 168 BCE, over 2,100 years ago.
It is interesting to note that neither Christmas nor Chanukah is a biblically mandated celebration. Rather, their origins became meaningful traditions of dedicated followers. They each draw our attention to something larger and greater than ourselves or the celebrations we keep.
Secondly, the historic background to each celebration involves a supernatural occurrence or miracle. Jesus of Nazareth was born miraculously by a virgin. Chanukah relates to the miraculous provision of sanctified oil for the Jewish temple’s rededication.
On this “night before Christmas,” I am drawn to see how these two celebrations point to each other. As I prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child and the forgiveness and salvation He brought mankind, perhaps I need to also see Hanukkah opportunities to make sure I am right with God in every area of my life and rededicate my “temple” to Him. How about you?