Tag Archives: God’s presence

Hanukkah and Christmas

Hanukkah, an eight day Jewish celebration, which can occur in late November to late December, and Christmas, the Christian celebration on December 25th, are celebrated close together in time. Are they connected beyond that?

The quick answer usually given is no, but think about it a little. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC. After conquering Judea, the Syrian leader plundered the temple, ended Jewish services and erected an altar to Zeus in it.

Leading a Jewish revolt, Judas Maccabeus reconquered the city, cleansed the temple and initiated an eight day celebration in memory of the event. Eight lights lit successively call people to God’s holy place.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ approximately 167 years later.

Both of these feasts are about the Presence of God. For the Jews God was in the temple as Creator and Savior. For Christians God reveals his presence in Jesus Christ, who proclaimed himself God’s Son, “the light of the world” as he celebrated the Jewish feasts in the temple. (John 7-10)

All the gospels report that Jesus cleansed the temple  and spoke of himself replacing it. Luke’s gospel  begins in the temple with the promise to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist and ends as the Child Jesus enters his “Father’s house.” (Luke 1-2) Our readings today link the restoration of the temple by Judas Maccabeus and the Jesus cleansing the temple: 1 Mc 4:36-37, 52-59/Lk 19:45-48

Far from being separate, Hanukkah and Christmas are connected in their celebration of God’s presence. Hanukkah reminds us of the temple, the place of God’s provisional presence. The Christmas mystery reminds us of the abiding presence of God with us in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Light that never fails, who gives life to all nations.

By a Winding Road

The great 3rd century scholar Origin, whom I mentioned in my last post, was well acquainted with the holy land, since he was a native of Alexandria in Egypt and taught for a time in Caesarea Maritima, about 60 miles from Jerusalem. He’s one of the first Christian sources to speak of the cave at Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and he must have been aware of other places associated with Jesus as well.

I remember  a pilgrimage I made  to Mount Sinai years ago, with Origin’s commentary “On Exodus” in hand, traveling by bus from the Red Sea through the mountains on what seemed like an interminable, narrow winding road. “We go to God by a winding road,” Origin said in his commentary, and I knew he had traveled this road.

His commentary explored the spiritual meaning of the scriptural events, but he was there all right. He didn’t forget what was there.

As a pilgrim in Jerusalem he must have stood before the ruins of the temple in Jerusalem. According to early sources, Jews came regularly to the Mount of Olives across from the Kidron Valley to look upon the ruined temple and mourn its passing. Origen must have seen them there. The present custom of gathering for prayer and remembrance at the “wailing wall” or western wall today began with them.

Then as now, some thought of rebuilding the temple, because they couldn’t envision their faith without it. Others realized that the Presence they sought there could be found elsewhere in other towns and places. Their synagogues and homes became more important as places of faith and worship.

Origen thought like the Jews who looked beyond the ruins. “Troubles and persecutions” led to rebuilding, but somewhere else and in another way. At the same time, he looked upon the ruins and acknowledged their glory, as signs of the One “who is, who was, and is to come.”