The events surrounding the Nativity are familiar. The backstory of Chanukah, however, is often enigmatic for Christians.
THE LIGHT OF CHANUKAH HAS A CONNECTION TO HISTORY
Chanukah is not among the major feasts requiring pilgrimage to Jerusalem as listed in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. None-the-less, this light-filled festival is historically significant.
The record of Chanukah dates to the 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments. The Syrian despot Antiochus IV claiming the title Epiphanes (literally: “manifestation of god”) is the antagonist in a shockingly anti-Semitic period of history.
In a sacrilegious act of intimidation, the aforementioned Antiochus desecrated the temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem by offering pigs on the altar. Then in another audacious act, he erected an image of Zeus Olympus in the courtyard embellished with the likeness of his own face.
The Maccabees, a righteous, devout and fearless family, led a three-year revolt against Syrian forces. Through their vigilance, the tyrant Antiochus IV was ultimately defeated, the temple purified from defilement and the menorah relighted, thereby reinstating worship of Jehovah in 164 B.C.
The rededication of the temple began with the lighting of the newly purified menorah. According to Moses’ instructions, only consecrated oil could be used. Tragically when it was time to relight the menorah, just one flask—enough for one day—was found (Lev. 24:2).
Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days! That miracle continues to be commemorated up to the present. It is for this reason that the Chanukah celebration features a 9-branched chanukiah with one taller or prominent candle and eight behind it.
If you happen to see a chanukiah visible in a window, take note that the miracle of Chanukah is on display for passersby to observe.
On each successive night of the celebration, the tall candle known as the Shamash or servant is used to light the other candles throughout the eight-day celebration. On day eight, all candles shine brightly as a reminder of that ancient miracle. Chanukah celebrates the victory of the light—exemplified by worship of the One-true God—over the darkness of pagan idolatry.
THE LIGHT OF CHANUKAH HAS A NEW TESTAMENT CONNECTION
Did you know that the Bible documents our Lord Jesus’ celebration of Chanukah? The apostle John records, “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch” (Jn. 10:22-23).
It is logical to assume that Jesus would be in Solomon’s Porch at this time of year. The Feast of Dedication (Chanukah) occurs during the cold and rainy season on the 25th of Kislev—corresponding with late November to late December.
This sole mention of the celebration of Chanukah in the Bible is intriguing because it was during this feast that Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). The apostle John explains the significance of the Incarnation saying, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn. 1:4).
It is noteworthy that shortly after His birth, Jesus was presented at the temple according to the Law of Moses (Ex. 13:1). As Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus into the courtyard of the temple, they met an aged priest. Simeon took the baby in his arms and declared,
“For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Lk. 2:30-32).
Simeon’s affirmation echoes Messianic prophecy where God used Isaiah to declare, “I will also give You [Messiah] as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6).
THE LIGHT OF CHRISTMAS PIERCES THE DARKNESS
While this may come as a surprise, there was no Christmas tree for most of the years we served in the pastorate. My wife and I did not feel obligated to conform to cultural expectations. We did not want our young son to feel conflicted by the secular aspects of Christmas. The demands of the ministry were our priority. Instead, we chose to place our focus on the Nativity and always set-up an elaborate presepe.
It became apparent that we had to re-think Christmas decorations after making an international move. For thirteen years, we embraced the Christmas tree with many lights—first setting-up one, then two and up to five including those outside. In that time and environment, the lighted tree was synonymous with Christianity.
I might just add that Christians have great liberty in the way we choose to celebrate Christmas. There is no list of rules in the Bible to which we must adhere. Almost universally, Christians grasp that the babe in the manger is the Light of the world and the focal point of our celebration.
The Good News of Christmas is summarized in Jesus’ own words, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (Jn. 12:46).
The symbolism of the light of Chanukah and Christmas intersect in a profound way. As you enjoy the lights of the season, remember that the Judeo-Christian world celebrates the reality that light always conquers darkness!
1) Hanukkiah Lighted With Blue Lamp Oil. (Image used for illustrative purposes) (Photo credit: By Maor X (Own work)/[CC BY-SA 3.0]/ Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) The Peace Tower At Christmas, Ottawa, Canada. (Image used for illustrative purposes) (Photo credit: By David Carrol [CC BY 2.0]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright 2016 © Charles E. McCracken, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author via Contact Form under ABOUT. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Rev. McCracken is known for authenticity in communicating biblical truth that makes his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.