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Hanukkah: Feast of the Dedication

 A Hebrew Catholic Perspective

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I         Introduction: A Call to Restore the Temple

II        An Overview of Hanukkah

III       Some Biblical Readings

IV       Spiritual Truths Highlighted

   1    Our God of Miracles   

   2    Our God of Torah

   3    Our God of Presence

   4    Our God of Light

   5    Our God of Love and Hope

V         Conclusion:

                 Blessings of Hanukkah

 

 

 Hanukkah: Feast of the Dedication

 

   Introduction: A Call to Restore the Temple

Stories of heroism and the victory of the downtrodden over their cruel and ruthless oppressors are always inspiring. None is more so than Hanukkah! But this story, celebrated every year since it occurred, has a very powerful message for us today. As we celebrate Hanukkah, we are not just commemorating a glorious victory long ago; we are challenged to take similar action in a world which is increasingly hostile to us and our religious beliefs.

When we look carefully at the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple — of Lights — Hanukkah — and consider it in the context of our Lord’s claiming to be the New Temple (John 2: 19), and the Light of the World (John 8: 22) — then we see the full significance of the annual celebration. We also understand why it has a very special message to Christians who form part of the structure of this New Temple, (1 Peter 2: 5), and who await the Return of the Messiah to bring it to perfection.

 

II    An Overview of Hanukkah

Let’s take a broad look at what this great festival is really all about. The following is a beautiful summary from “Penelope’s Pen” (www.penelopespen.com ), entitled, “The Feast of Dedication from a Christian Perspective”.

The Feast of Dedication, otherwise known as Hanukkah or the
Festival of Lights, is a beautiful holiday to celebrate, even as a Christian.
In Hebrew, the word ‘hanukkah’ means ‘dedication’. It is the event of
the purification and re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem in
165 B.C.E. after it had been defiled by the Syrians. It is a time for
family and prayer, and a time to focus on the light of the world, Jesus.
 
In 168 B.C.E. the Jews had been taken captive. The Jewish Temple was
seized by Syrian Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the
God Zeus. Antiochus, the king at that time, ordered any Jew who
would not follow him as their god, be put to death. Many Jews
were killed and others brutally beaten because they refused to
renounce the one true God to follow after Antiochus. Jewish resistant
fighters took a stand and after three years they defeated the Syrians.
It was at this time that the temple was re-dedicated and the Jews set
about to purify the Temple. The altar which had been defiled with the
sacrifice of pigs was dismantled and a new one built. New holy vessels
were crafted. A date was set for the dedication of the Temple……
the 25th of Kislev.

When Judah re-dedicated the Temple, they found only one single
container of oil whose seal had not been broken and was therefore
still pure. This oil was required to keep the menorah in the Temple
burning. The menorah was known as the Eternal Light, and God
commanded it should never burn out. To allow that to happen would
be like a another desecration. The problem was that it would take eight
days for more oil to be pressed, prepared and consecrated. The priests
offered their prayers up to God as they lit the oil they had.
Miraculously, this one container of oil, enough to last only one night,
burned for all eight days! That is the miracle of lights celebrated
at Hanukkah.

 

III      Some Biblical Readings: Historical Background
             (Here we draw from the writing of Glenn Kay, on messianicfellowship.50webs.com)

Primary Source:             The book of First Maccabees, chapters 1 — 4.

Introduction:                                       1 Mac. 1: 1 — 10
The Paganising Programme:             1 Mac. 1: 11 — 15
Desecration of the Temple                 1 Mac. 1: 41 — 64   
Revolt of Mattathias                           1 Mac. 2: 1 — 48
Judas Maccabeus takes command    1 Mac. 3: 1 — 9
Syrian Armies defeated                      1 Mac. 3: 10 — 60
Re-dedication of the Temple              1 Mac. 4: 36 — 61

Additional Readings

●    Story predicted                              Daniel 8: 21 — 25
●    Jesus during Hanukkah                 John 10: 22 — 23
●    Jesus Christ the Word                   Revelation 1: 12 — 16

 

IV    Spiritual Truths Highlighted

1    Our God of Miracles   

There is a sense in which one could easily call the victory of the Maccabeans over their oppressors as a miracle of vast proportions. It is celebrated, however, not in a massive victory parade but by the quiet lighting of nine candles in each person’s home for eight evenings. The victory is focussed on the real purpose of the battle: the restoration of the things of God: God’s presence in the Temple and His presence in each home and each person who lives there.

This teaches us many things and highlights the tragedy so prevalent in the Church today whereby many people go seeking the miraculous, the spectacular, and the extraordinary in religion, rather than the simple, quiet, daily attention to the things of God. They go looking for the ‘newsworthy’ miracles which command their attention and attendance. And of course, there are plenty of purveyors of fine miracles springing up all over the world to ensure supply meets demand. Such religion has been corporatised and marketed like many other highly profitable sectors of modern life.

Hanukkah calls us to open our eyes to the real Light which enables us to see the beautiful miracles of God taking place daily, all around us: and to give thanks. Hanukkah therefore helps us keep the focus on the Glory of God, and constantly warns us of the danger of meddling with any lesser substitute.

 2    Our God of Torah

In the Hebrew Scriptures (often called the Old Testament), the Five Books of the Torah are the principal Teaching; they are the Word  of God; and far more than “the Law.” The word ‘dedication’ — ‘chanukkah’, shares the same root as the Hebrew word for ‘education’ — ‘chinukh’. Hanukkah calls us to wake up and be ready to fight for God’s Teaching as it is contained in the Holy Scriptures. It calls on us to value education in the Scriptures and to take up regular and sustained study of all they contain. This, of course, will require us to plan, reserve and dedicate whatever is needed to maintain a regular programme of study. We are talking about formation in the Word of God, and taking steps to deflect all the influences which tend to infiltrate our daily lives and destroy our good intentions. Only then can we hope to stave off assimilation into the Godless culture which surrounds us and threatens to annihilate our precious Faith.

Jesus Christ is, and claimed to be, ‘Torah’ — He is the Word of God — the embodiment of all God wishes to teach us. Indeed, God the Father, in His only commandment recorded in the New Testament said, “Listen to Him!” (Matt. 17: 5). It is helpful to recall that, for St. Matthew, there is no Torah AND Gospel in his account; there is no New Law; there is no Torah plus a New Law. There is rather: the Good News that in Jesus, who is Torah Incarnate, there is rest, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Matt. 11: 30). (Based on ‘Son of God as the Torah Incarnate In Matthew,’ Stadia Evangelica IV, ed by F.I. Cross [Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1968], pp. 37 — 46.)

Our times demand our commitment to obey God, and commit seriously to the study of all our Lord communicated by His life, teaching, example and His actions.

3      Our God of Presence

At Hanukkah, the Temple was purified, after having been defiled and desecrated in the worst possible ways. Despite all the filth, and dishonouring of a place so sacred to God, a way was provided for the purification of the Temple so that it was fitting for re-dedication, and worthy of God’s Return, and His continued Presence among His people.

Christians can take heart in the claim by our Lord Jesus Christ which identifies His Body with the New Temple (John 2: 19). His Body in turn is identified with the Church, and the Church herself, is the New Temple — insofar as it is the Body of Christ of which He is the head.                   (Dictionary of the Bible, by John L. McKenzie, S.J.)

Indeed, we, as members of His Body are the living stones of this Temple, and are incorporated into the Temple of God’s Presence by virtue of our membership in Christ and the in-dwelling of His Holy Spirit.

Hanukkah calls upon us to purify our own bodies — the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and to re-dedicate ourselves to God.

It also calls on us to purify our homes and remove all that is inconsistent with God’s dwelling there. Our homes should not only reflect an absence of what is objectionable by God’s standards, but should go much further and reflect by their furnishings, decorations, and atmosphere, the loving Presence of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Think of God’s mercy, my brothers and sisters, and worship him,
I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering
your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not
model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but
let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is
the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good,
what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.  (Rom. 12: 1 — 2)

4    Our God of Light

The Hanukkah menorah is a variation of that which was commanded by God in Exodus 25: 31 — 40, and which was God’s vessel to blend, as it were, the spiritual life that is to come with the physical life of this world. The purpose of the latter, in being lit every day, was not simply to illuminate the Temple, but to spread light throughout the whole world. It was thus to be a physical reminder of the commandment conveyed later through the Prophet Isaiah 42: 6 to be a light to the nations.

And so the Hanukkah menorah has an extra candle, a ninth, called, the ‘Shamash’ — the ‘servant’ candle. During the eight days of this festival in memory of the wonderful preservation of the Jewish Faith and its gift to the world, there are three special aspects to note relating to the lighting of the menorah.

a)     The Shamash, the ‘servant’ or ‘helper’ candle is lit first, and
        is then used to light a candle for each new day of Hanukkah.

b)     The candles are lit one new candle per day.
         “The story of Hanukkah is the story of light growing in the darkness.
         Wherever there are people of Torah, there is also darkness trying
         to snuff them out …..   ….. But the story of Hanukkah is that the light
         is not diminished. Instead the light grows.”          (D. Thomas Lancaster)

c)     When lit, and the customary prayers recited, the menorah is
         placed near a window facing the street, to share the light with all
         who choose to respond within and to be drawn to it.      

                                          
Hanukkah has come to be a very homely, family festival. One may be fortunate to own a very elegant and stately menorah. In Judaism, however, if such is not the case, even the humblest row of eight candles or votive lamps with a ninth to light the rest, is just as acceptable. Often a family chooses to task the children to make a menorah for the occasion, and to decorate it with their favourite happy colours and designs.

Forty days after the birth of Jesus, the required time as recorded in the Torah (Lev. 12), the Holy Family travelled to Jerusalem for the Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of His blessed mother. The event is recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke 2: 22 — 32. It is so beautiful it is worth pausing to read it again. We take it up, here, at verse 29 where the devout Simeon, prompted by the Holy Spirit, entered the Temple and, blessing God, took the child Jesus in his arms and said, “This is the light which shall give revelation to the Gentiles, this is the glory of your people, Israel”.

During the three years of our Lord’s ministry, He said, “….. the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve”. (Matt. 20: 28). It is as though He chose to be the ‘Shamash’ — the ‘servant’ candle — the source of light for all the other candles. “There is one who enlightens every soul born into the world; he was the true light.” (John 1: 9). On a later occasion He said, “I am the light of the world”.

Hanukkah reminds us that despite persecution, oppression and apparent abandonment, the light which comes from God will continue to increase, against all odds. It is light that gives hope.

Hanukkah reminds us also of the words of our Lord: “You are the light of the world.”
                                                                                                                                              (Matthew 5: 14).

We are the lamps which have been given light by the very source of the light — the Lord Jesus, Himself: light to be shared with all who are in darkness.

Again, we recall our Lord’s very clear requirement of those who choose to be His followers: “Your light must shine so brightly before others, that they can see your good works, and give the praise to your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5: 16).

5    Our God of Love and Hope

Hanukkah is, in a manner, about the return of God to dwell among His people. It is a forerunner to the Return of the Messiah at the end of time in the descent of New Jerusalem. We read in Titus 2: 11 — 14:

You see, God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation
possible for the human race and taught us that what we have to
do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our
worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and
religious lives here in this present world, while we are awaiting in
hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the
glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus. He sacrificed
himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to
purify a people so that it could be his very own and would
have no ambition except to do good.                     (Jerusalem Bible)

We are His people, gathered about Him, wherever we live, awaiting the Lord’s glorious Return. Thus our sights are pointed towards His Second Coming, whilst doing our best, here and now, to live according to His Teaching. We are not left in the darkness of endless wondering what it is all about. We know with certitude — in terms of all we need to know — that Jesus Christ will return to establish in all its fullness, the glorious Kingdom of God, of which the Church in the world is but the forerunner. To that we look with hope and expectation, praying daily the prayer of the very first Christians: “Maranatha” — Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

 
V    Conclusion:

Jewish people love Hanukkah, but will explain that it is, in fact, one of the lesser festivals in the Jewish calendar. However, as with traditional Christian festivals, certain feast days may be lesser — but that does not mean ‘minor’, in the modern sense of the word. The Festival of the Dedication has major lessons for us — and offers wonderful hope in times which to many people, seem to be of growing darkness.

We have, within our reach, many opportunities to demonstrate our gratitude to and loyalty to our God who causes countless miracles to occur daily among His people; our God who provides us with the Torah and Gospels, together with supporting Biblical Teaching; our God who yearns to be present among us, and have us gathered around Him in time and space; our God in whose Light we see the light; our God of love and hope.

 

Blessings of Hanukkah

Let us bless God:

●    Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has
       sanctified us with Your Commandments, and has commanded
       us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.

●    Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who wrought
       miracles for our fathers in the days of old, at this season.

●    Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has
       kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time. 

May this Festival be a happy and holy one for you and all whom you love,
and for whom you care.

 

Happy Hanukkah!

 

Shalom!

 

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