In our home, we celebrate Chanukah (sometimes spelled Hanukkah). We do this because my husband is a Messianic Jew, which means that culturally and ethnically, he is Jewish, but he also loves Jesus. We want to honor his Jewish heritage, but we also like to recognize how we can see Jesus in the midst of it. After all, Jesus was Jewish. By learning about my husband’s Jewish roots, we learn more about our Messiah and the way Jesus fulfills all these beautiful traditions.
You won’t find the historical account of Chanukah in the Bible, but you can find some of it in the apocryphal books of I & II Maccabees. The story takes place in 165 B.C., under the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes, a Hellenized Syrian ruler, bent on reforming Jewish religion to suit his Greek tastes. He desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig to Jupiter on God’s holy altar. In light of this historic fact, this Chanukah ham sale isn’t such a great idea.
A group of warriors under the leadership of Judah Maccabee defeated the foreign rulers in Judea and reclaimed the temple. To rededicate it, the Jews needed sanctified oil for their lamps, but they only had enough for one day. Miraculously, God made that oil burn for 8 days, long enough to purify oil for temple use.
Jesus celebrated Chanukah. In his day, it was known as the Feast of Dedication. We find the account in John 10:22-23: “Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.”
I love how Jesus used the context of Chanukah to demonstrate his divinity. When people gathered around him and demanded to know if he was the Messiah, Jesus’ answer alluded to holiday they were celebrating and the God of miracles who gave them the holiday. He says, “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the father” (John 10:37-38 NIV). Just as the Father has the power to do great miracles, Jesus, his son, can do them as well.
When we celebrate Chanukah, we celebrate one of God’s miracles, but we also celebrate his greatest miracle, his son Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, performed great miracles, and died for us.
Today, Jews continue to celebrate the light and the miracle of Chanukah. It’s known as the “Festival of Lights,” and each night, for 8 nights, families light the menorah to remember the miracle of the lights.
In our home, as we celebrate Chanukah, we remember that Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12). He came to bring light to all men, Jews and gentiles alike: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV).
Whenever we light the menorah, we have a symbolic reminder of Jesus. Each Chanukah menorah holds 9 candles. One of the candles has a special role. Its name is the “shamash,” which means “servant.” Its job is to light the other candles. Jesus was also a servant, the “shamash” light to our sinful world: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
May the true “Light of the World” shine brightly upon you this holiday season.