Every year as we decorate the house to celebrate the Christmas season, we make sure to get our non-Christmas decoration out on the mantle. We put up our Christmas tree filled with ornaments, hang our stockings, put out the Christmas kitchen towels, and set the menorah up on the mantle. I'm not Jewish. I have never been Jewish, but I love to celebrate Hanukkah during the holiday season. Why? Simple, because Jesus celebrated Hanukkah.
What's Hanukkah all about?
While we all have probably heard of menorahs and playing with dreidels made out of clay, Hanukkah is a historically significant holiday in Jewish culture. Hanukkah is an eight day festival of light, which because of the Jewish calendar varies from year to year, but always falls relatively close to Christmas.
Thousands of years ago, even before Christ, the Holy Land was ruled by people trying to forcefully take over the people of Israel. The temple was taken over and the worship of the Jewish people was disrupted and Judaism was outlawed.
"The king being thereto disposed beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those that favored Ptolemy, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months." - Josephus
A group of faithful Jews reclaimed the temple and rededicated it to God. When they went to light the temple's menorah, they found only a small amount of olive oil, only enough for a single days supply. Miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days. To commemorate this miracle, Jews would light the candles of the menorah nightly. Using the middle candle, the shamash, the other candles are lit and blessings are recited.
"Blessed are You, O Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded to us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah... Blessed are You, O Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who made miracles for our forefathers in those days at this time"
What does it have to do with Christmas?
What better time to celebrate a season like Hanukkah than during the Christmas season. Christmas is a time of great miracles. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the light burning in the temple; Christmas celebrates the miracle of the light of the world being born. Hanukkah celebrates miracles. Christmas celebrates the greatest miracle of all; the God of the universe became flesh for us.
And in the midst of a Hanukkah celebration Jesus makes it clear who he is:
Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. - John 10:22-28
Jesus claims to be the promised Messiah. Jesus claims to be the "light of the world." Jesus claims to be the greatest miracle of all miracles.