Monday, November 25, 2013

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving: Two Holidays in One

For most Christians, Hanukkah means little more than brass menorahs with nine branches, toy dreidels, tiny candles, and dark blue and white decorations. Yet, as with most Jewish holy days and feasts, this one, too, is significant for non-Jews as well.

Were it not for Hanukkah, the Jewish nation could have easily become just another Greek province.  There would have been no distinct Jewish nation or family for Jesus to have been born into.  in short, there would be no Christmas.

Hanukkah is the Hebrew word meaning "dedication."  What may surprise you is that this Feast of Dedication is actually found in Scripture.  John 10:22 records, "Then the Festival of Dedication took place in Jerusalem, and it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon."

The Messiah was in the temple at the time of Hanukkah, no doubt celebrating in remembrance with His fellow Jews. 

The eight day Hanukkah celebration serves as a reminder of the period of time immediately preceding Christ's birth when Alexander the Great and the Greeks sought to assimilate everything and everyone in their path, including the conquered nation of Israel.

As you might imagine, there was pressure from the upper classes and priests for Israel to fit into this Greek culture.  Conforming would just make life easier, right?

Sure...except for the parts where Hellenistic Greek culture was filled with rampant immorality, worship of false gods, and disregard for the non-progressive idea that Jehovah was the sole God of the universe and not Zeus. 

Antiochus Epiphanes, King of Syria, held this part of Alexander's empire and, two hundred years before Christ's birth, decided to turn all Jews into Greeks, to force them to assimilate.  How better to do this than to conspire with several Jewish leaders to conscript the temple of God for Greek worship.  The result was God's temple transformed into a temple for Zeus with his statue placed inside the Holy of Holies.  What's more, the corrupt priests sacrificed pig's blood to this idol within the temple walls, an abomination and flagrant disregard for God's instructions regarding the purity of His holy temple.

Then there was King Antiochus, himself.  His second name meant "the epiphany of the gods," a personal attempt to claim divinity in flesh for himself.   In short, he claimed to be a god made flesh, dwelling among them. Immanuel, with a lowercase "i."

In 165 B.C.E., a devout group of Jews called the Maccabees revolted against this attempt at assimilation.  They reclaimed the temple, cleansed it after the desecration, and then dedicated it once again so worship of God could continue as He had prescribed in the Torah.

Dedication.  Hanukkah.

Fast forward to that Festival of Dedication in the New Testament.  Into the temple walks another man of flesh claiming to be God and saying, "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:30).  With memories of Antiochus Epiphanes fresh in their mind at this Feast, it's no wonder the crowd picked up stones to use against Jesus "'for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God'" (Jn. 10:33).

The sad thing is that while Antiochus had been mere flesh, Jesus was the one they had all been waiting for.  He really was God dwelling among them. Immanuel, God with us, but this time with a capital "I."

This year, Hanukkah begins in the evening of Wednesday, November 27 and ends in the evening of Thursday, December 5, 2013, is one of those rare occurrences when Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlap.

We Christians already gathering to give thanks for God's blessings could benefit from pausing to remember Hanukkah as well.  As Messianic Jewish Rabbi Derek Leman says, "Hanukkah is about more than Jewish survival--it's about Jewish people resisting the temptation to assimilate and disappear.  It's about Jewish people remaining Jewish, no matter the cost" (Leman 110).

Sound familiar?  In a modern world where Christians are fighting this same battle to not assimilate, to not take the easy road and disappear into the throngs who refuse to acknowledge Scripture as God's revelation of Himself and His holy requirements, our remembering Hanukkah  could be as simple as reminding us to dedicate ourselves to purity and holiness in our worship of God.

It's about God's children remaining God's matter the cost.

*Source: Leman, Derek.  Feast: Finding Yourself at the Table of Tradition.  Lifeway P, 2008.

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