THE FEAST OF LIGHTS AND THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

December 13, 2009

Last week's theological issue article ended with a postulation. Namely, that Jesus was born on or close to the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  Since, Jesus was the atonement for the sins of mankind, a Christian can celebrate His birthday on the day Jews celebrate "the rolling back of sins."

This week, let me digress into the corollaries between Christmas as we celebrate it today and the Jewish Feast of Lights, or Hanukkah.

Hanukkah falls on the 25th of the Jewish month Kislev.  This month can begin as early as the 6th day of November and as late as the 4th day of December.  The 25th day, then, would fall between November 30th and December 28th.  Hanukkah symbolizes freedom from oppression.

This eight-day festive season commemorates the Jewish victory over the demoralizing and oppressing Syrians and ancient Greeks, who aimed to eradicate Judaism.  The revolt against the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, the enemy of the Jews, was started by an old priest named Mattathias of Modin, and it continued under his son, Judas Maccabaeus.  On the 25th day of Kislev in 164 B.C., three-and-a-half years after the Jewish Temple had been blasphemously defiled, Judas Maccabaeus with a small army of Jewish soldiers victoriously entered Jerusalem, cleansed and repaired and rededicated the Temple. Hence, the Feast of Dedication referred to in John 10:22 is one and the same as the Feast of Lights, or Hanukkah.

It would seem that this was in fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy found in Daniel 9:9-12. Perhaps what happened in B.C. 164 was a near fulfillment and the far or complete fulfillment will take place during the time of Jacob's trouble (Jeremiah 30:6-8), referred to by Christ as the great tribulation (Matthew 24:15-22).

Hanukkah celebration lasts eight days. On the first day the shammash, the prominent branch of the Hanukkah Menorah (which is the nine-branched candlestick) is lighted. The shammash, which means "servant," is usually in the center and is the tallest of the branches of the candlestick.  From it each of the other branches is lighted on subsequent days, until all are lighted.

Tradition tells us that one of the priests in B.C. 164 found a cruse of unpolluted oil. With this the candlestick was replenished. It is also said that this small quantity of oil was miraculously increased so that it lasted eight days. Hence, the eight days of festivities and the emphasis upon light.

The way in which Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah today is very significant.  The customs of this joyous season point very definitely to the One of whom all the divinely inspired Jewish prophets of old wrote, the One revealed in the New Testament, viz. Jesus Christ.

In many ways the Jewish Hanukkah celebration is similar to Christmas.  Both were originated in the same land by the same people. Both occur on the same day of their respective months (25th of Kislev and 25th of December). On both holidays gifts are exchanged. In the celebrations special songs are sung: Mo' Oz Tzur (Rock Of My Salvation) on Hanukkah, and carols during the Christmas season. Both are in commemoration of great historic events that changed the whole cause of mankind.

Lights are the order of the day for both Hanukkah and Christmas. In both observances the Servant has the place of prominence; the shammash (meaning "servant"), the middle branch of the Menorah; and the Messiah, the Suffering Servant of God. And the sad thing about both, each are highly commercialized today.

I mentioned above eight points wherein both Hanukkah and Christmas are similar. But nothing stands out more than the emphasis upon light.

The true Shammash, the Servant of God said: "I am the Light of the World: he who follows after Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12).

Just as the Shammash on the Hanukkah Menorah lights all the other branches, Jesus Christ is said to be the true Light Who gives light to all who come in contact with Him, all who believe in Him. "This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God" (John 3:19-21).

Light dispels darkness. Light enables people to see. Light brings life. Light purifies. Light heals. And the Psalmist declares: "The Lord is my light and my salvation. (Psalm 27:1).

Jesus is the effulgence of God's glory (Hebrews 1:3). For any who are in darkness to these spiritual truths, this message is given:
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me [Christ]" (Acts 26:18).

Jesus Christ is remembered by Christians are the fulfillment of God's promises and the glorification of God's presence in the world. He is not in a candlestick or Menorah, He is in you and in me.

These two great days on religions calendar illuminate a path to God's presence, but for Christians the Light is within and shall not last for just eight days, but for all eternity.

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