Tag Archives: Hanukkah

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.

The Father’s Hand

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 10:22-30

The feast of the Dedication was then taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

John 10:22-24

A wintry chill descended upon the temple in Jerusalem as Jesus’ enemies encircled the shepherd like wolves. The Light of the World outshone all the candles of the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah, Feast of Dedication), but his enemies preferred darkness. 

“How long will you take away our life?” they asked the one who is Life itself (see NABRE footnote to John 10:24).

Hearts and ears were closed to Jesus, though his opponents seemed to seek a straight answer about his messiahship. 

Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.

John 10:25-26

Believing is not automatic. Signs and wonders, teaching, and fulfillment of prophecies do not necessarily awaken faith. The human heart has an unfathomable capacity to resist whatever it wants to resist. Every argument has a counter-argument. Faith is not ultimately a matter of debate, but of trust in a divine person. Faith is friendship.

Signs and wonders have limited efficacy. Stories in the Torah abound with signs and wonders that failed to produce lasting change. The ten plagues of Egypt rolled off the hardened heart of Pharaoh. The parting of the Red Sea, water from the rock, and “bread from heaven” (manna) did not prevent grumbling or craving for the “fleshpots of Egypt.” 

“You do not believe,” Jesus said, because you have no relationship with me. My sheep seek green pastures, still waters, healing, rest, and life from me (Psalm 23).

My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.

John 10:27-28

No one can snatch the sheep of the divine shepherd. Not even death, the last enemy in this world (1 Corinthians 15:26), can destroy the Good Shepherd and his sheep.

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 29:30

The buck stops with the Father. Jesus can be mocked, scourged, and crucified for a time, but “the Father and I are one.” The Good Shepherd will return to the Father with the sheep given to him. The Father is better than a surety or guarantee. His Word is not just a promise or an oath, but a person—his only-begotten Son.

-GMC

Jewish Feasts as Signs

Jesus came again to Jerusalem for another feast, the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, John’s Gospel read in as today’s Lenten reading says. It’s the Hanukkah feast celebrated sometime in late November to late December, recalling the rededication of the temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century BC.

In John’s Gospel the Jewish feasts are signs revealing who Jesus is; they inspire his words and the miracles he does. In fact, he replaces them.

On the Sabbath, (chapter 5) he heals the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethsaida. The Son will not rest from giving life as the Father never rests from giving life.

On the Passover (chapter 6), he is the true Bread from heaven, the manna that feeds multitudes.

On the Feast of Tabernacles (chapters 7–9) he calls himself the light of the world and living water.

On the Feast of the Dedication, (chapter 10,31-42) he reveals himself as the true temple, the One who dwells among us and makes God’s glory known. Once more, Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel his relationship to the Father, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Yet, once more hostile listeners do not see the signs and accuse him of blasphemy, trying to stone him or have him arrested. But Jesus evades them and goes back across the Jordan to the place where John baptized and “many there began to believe in him.” He will return to Jerusalem to raise Lazarus from the dead. (chapter11)

So many signs are given to us. We have the scriptures, the sacraments, the witness of the saints. How tragic not to follow them to the Word made flesh! Follow the feasts and let them speak to us.

Hanukkah and Christmas

Today I wrote a reflection for our province website entitled “Hanukkah and Christmas.” The Jewish and Christian celebrations coincide closely this year.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC. 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 present in the temple in a special way. For Christians God is present in Jesus Christ, who spoke of himself as the temple of God in this world. His presence remains and cannot be destroyed.

Many days, I look out my window at a great church across the street here in Union City  that my community had to let go of some years ago. As with many holy places nowadays,  we couldn’t keep it going financially.

It seems to me the ancient mysteries of Hanukkah and Christmas constantly repeat themselves over time. Buildings, places, however sacred, rise and fall. Jesus Christ does not rise and fall. The Christmas mystery reminds us of his abiding Presence. He is God with us, Emmanuel, and he always gives us life.

Still, we mourn when buildings go.