We are almost ready to celebrate the Sacred Feast of Christmas. During this Advent and our Christmas holiday our Jewish brothers and sisters are celebrating too! The Feast of Hanukkah almost always tends to fall at the same time as our Christmas season. The Jewish people use a lunar calendar so the dates don’t always line up exactly – this year Hanukkah fell between December 12th and 20th.
You can find Hanukkah in the Old Testament Books of 1st and 2nd Maccabees, a time when the Jewish people were under attack by foreign persecutors. The Greeks tried to destroy the Jewish religion and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and murdered many Jews who remained faithful to the covenant. The word Hanukkah means “rededication” because the Jewish people rededicated the temple after they had won the war against the Greek invaders. It also celebrates a miracle, the miracle of the light of the menorah candle in the temple. The eight branched candle stand that stood inside the temple, before the Holy of Holies, kept burning miraculously for eight days even though the priests ran out of the sacred oil that made the menorah candle burn. For that reason Hanukkah is sometimes called “the Festival of Lights.”
I grew up with some Jewish friends and have made a number of Jewish friends in the various places I’ve been assigned over the years. I am always amazed and blessed by the story of the Jewish people - God’s chosen people as recounted in the Scriptures. That story of God’s chosen ones begins with Abraham and continues into the present day. The Holocaust – one of the worst atrocities even committed against a people – stands as a reminder to all of us that the power of evil is strong in our world. Whether we speak about the Jewish Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the murder of hundreds of thousands in Syria, or whatever terrible thing going on in our world today, we must never forget that we are all one family, in solidarity with all of suffering humanity. So many have suffered much throughout history and yet have remained resilient and faithful. Of course we can add the suffering of many Christians throughout the world to this list. Pope Benedict once wrote: “To have Christian hope means to know about evil and yet to go to meet the future with confidence.”
During the celebration of the Festival of Hanukkah, it is customary to place one’s hanukkiah (the traditional candle stand) close to a window, or even outside the entrance of one’s home if possible, in order that the brightness of its light might be a welcoming sight and warm the hearts of those passing by in the darkness of the street. During the centuries of exile, and in dangerous times, Jews were not able to display their hanukkiahs in the street. As believers, that should be our mindset – we display the light of Christ – the light of goodness and hope for all the world to see.
My prayer this Christmas, is this feast of the Lord’s birth be a time of hope. That you and I witness to the love of God and thus bring hope to our world.