Festival of Lights and Miracles

By Alan Gilman

Beginning the evening of December 9 this year (2001) - next year (2002), November 29, the Festival of Hanukkah begins. It is an eight-day festival that has its origins in the second century BC. It is from the inter- testamental period, during the days of the divided Greek empire.

It is a very happy time, marked by the lighting of a special candelabra, children playing games, and parties.

While it is not a biblical feast, it plays an important part in biblical history.

As the story goes, the emperor Antiochus Epiphanes in order to consolidate his rule over his part of the Greek empire, imposed Greek culture and religion upon all the people of his domain. This included the Jewish people in the land of Israel.

Many of the Jewish people went along with this. A gymnasium was built in Jerusalem and pagan rituals were done in the Temple.

Eventually a revolt began in the town of Modi'in, led by a pious family, which became known as the Maccabees. The name Maccabees may come from an acronym taken from "Who is like unto You, O Lord, among the gods." The details can be found in such sources as the book of 1 Maccabees in the Apocrypha and in the writings of Josephus.

Eventually this small ill-equipped group of Jews defeated the large and heavily-armed forces of Antiochus.

The name Hanukkah means dedication and refers to the rededication of the altar of the Temple. The holiday is commemorated by the lighting of a special nine-branched candelabra. One of the candles called the "shammash" or "servant" is used to light the others.One candle is lit the first evening, two the second, until all eight are lit on the eighth evening. The family gathers to recite the appropriate blessings and sing songs celebrating the events of the season. Gifts are given to the children and (depending on the tradition) latkes (potato pancakes) or donuts are eaten.

One of the blessings said upon lighting the Hanukiah lights acknowledges God's working of miracles for our forefathers in those days at this time of year. The most popular miracle is related in the Talmud. It is said that when the altar was rededicated, there was only enough sacred oil for the menorah (candlestick) for one day, yet it lasted for eight days.

But perhaps the greater miracle is that the small relatively weak group of Jews defeated the vast, strong forces of Antiochus. As Jonathan, the son of King Saul said many years before, "Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few" (1 Samuel 14:6).

It seems that the theme of miracles was on Yeshua's mind during Hanukkah, because it was at this time he said,

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 that the Father is in me and I am in the Father (John 10:37,38).

Yeshua encouraged the people of his day to take notice of his miracles and believe in him as a result. His miracles point to his divine and messianic identity. In this way Yeshua personifies the message of Hanukkah: God actively involved in the affairs of his people.

While there were those in Yeshua's day (as well as today) who seek miraculous signs for wrong reasons, Yeshua's miracles were part of the revelation of himself. Consider, for example, when Yohanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) was in prison and sent his disciples to inquire whether or not Yeshua was, in fact, the Messiah. Yeshua said to them,

Go back and report to John what you hear and see: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (Matthew 11:4,5).

Hanukkah reminds us that God is a God of miracles, not just of concept and religious ideals. He has broken through into human history and continues to do so today. All of us who know Yeshua can speak of God's working in our lives.

As we light the Hanukkah lights this year, may they proclaim to all who see that the Light of the World has come and is at work in our lives--not just in times long ago, but today as well.

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