Hanukkah ends tomorrow. I’m not Jewish, but as a Christian, Jewish holidays have significance for me. At first thought, Hanukkah may have less significance than other Jewish holidays, but after some contemplation, maybe its implication for my faith increases. Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is a celebration of the cleansing of the Jewish temple. The Jewish people lost their independence in 586 B.C. when they were taken captive by the Babylonians. Though their subservience changed throughout the following years, they continued to be under another nations’ rule until Jerusalem fell in 70 A. D., and the Jewish nation ceased to exist. They became a nation once again on May 14, 1948 when the United Nations recognized Israel’s sovereignty. Even though the Jews were controlled by other countries after the exiles returned to Israel, their practices were often respected, but in 167 B.C., Antiochus Epiphanies, of the Seleucid Empire, erected a statue to Zeus in the Jewish temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar. A Jewish priest, named Mattathias, and his five sons let a revolt against Antiochus and led Israel into a period of peace. In 165 B.C. the temple was restored to the Jewish people, it was cleansed, and rededicated to God. Though the Jews really had not won their complete independence, they were able to remain fairly unmolested until the Roman Empire asserted their control and authority over Israel. Hanukkah is a celebration of the cleansing of the temple in 165 B.C., and in a sense is a celebration of Jewish independence and freedom. It is not an Old Testament festival, such as Passover, but rather it is a celebration of an event in Jewish history. It is called the “Festival of Lights” because there is a story connected to this cleansing that says when the priest went to light the menorah, he only had enough oil to last for a day. The story goes that the candles burned for eight days, therefore the festival is now celebrated for eight days.
Here’s the implication of Hanukkah for me, as a Christian. It is interesting that Hanukkah is celebrated at the beginning of the Christmas season. While the brief remission of domination for the Hebrew people is important to me, the greater importance is the freedom from tyranny and domination of sin offered through Christ’s redemption of humanity. The “Festival of Lights” is strategically placed around the beginning of December, and I can connect it to celebrating the real light Who came into the world, Jesus Christ. The Apostle John wrote of Christ, the Light, in the opening words to his gospel: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”
To my Jewish friends: Happy Hanukkah. For Christians around the world, we have a wonderful reason to celebrate as well. The greatest Light, Jesus Christ, has come into the world offering hope and forgiveness to mankind.