Chanukah is far more important than we Christians give it credit for. Everyone is familiar with of a menorah. It symbolizes and epitomizes the Chanukah story. But your average Christian, may not know the story. Knowing the story is important and so I will share an abbreviated version with you here.

In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. This upset the Jewish people, but many were afraid to fight back out of fear. Then in 167 B.C.E. the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship the Greek gods.

Jewish resistance began in the village of Modiin, near Jerusalem. Greek soldiers forcibly gathered the Jewish villages and told them to bow down to an idol, and then eat the flesh of a pig –practices that are forbidden to Jews. A Greek officer ordered Mattathias, a High Priest, to subject himself to their demands, but Mattathias refused. When another villager stepped forward and offered to cooperate on Mattathias’ behalf, the High Priest became outraged. He drew his sword and killed the villager, then turned on the Greek officer and killed him too. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked the remaining soldiers, killing all of them.

Mattathias and his family went into hiding in the mountains, where other Jews wishing to fight against the Greeks joined them. Eventually they succeeded in retaking their land from the Greeks. These rebels became known as the Maccabees.

Once the Maccabees had regained control they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. By this time it had been spiritually defiled by being used for the worship of foreign gods and also by practices such as sacrificing pigs on the altar. Jewish troops were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway and to their surprise the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.

This is the miracle of Chanukah that is celebrated every year when Jews light a special menorah for eight days. That is why we light one candle on the first night of Chanukah, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are lit.

Some think, “Well, this is nice and all, but that’s Old Testament, so why should we celebrate it today?” Because Jesus also celebrated Chanukah:

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” –John 10:22-24

Notice that the Jews wanted to know if Jesus is the Messiah because they think he might kick out the pagans and set up his kingdom just like the Maccabees did over a hundred years prior. They were now under Roman rule and they were ready for independence.

We also need to realize that while Jesus was at the Feast of Dedication, the subject of the Rabbi’s discussion on that day was most likely about the Temple dedication. So immediately we see that Jesus not only celebrated Chanukah but made the effort to be at the temple during this time. So if it was good enough for our master to celebrate a feast that commemorates the dedication of God’s temple, then why shouldn’t we follow his example?

The Messiah can be seen in every one of God’s feasts, including Chanukah:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” –John 8:12

Jesus is the light of the world, symbolized by the menorah, but even more specifically Jesus is the central light from which the other lights are lit.

The ninth candle in the center of the menorah is called the shamash or the “servant” candle. It is used to light the other ones. Jesus said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” –Matt. 20:28

Just as the candles on the menorah must be lit by the shamash (servant) candle, so we too must be lit by the servant, Jesus the Messiah, before burning bright in the world as a light to others; and our light will guide others to Jesus in the form of serving one another. This is Jesus’ message on Chanukah for us today.

Happy Chanukah!


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