Now I understand. Hanukkah is deeply important to my Christian faith.
Most of my years following Christ, I understood Hanukkah as a minor Jewish holiday that grew in cultural relevance as a response to western expressions of Christmas. I knew Hanukkah isn’t recorded in the Old Testament. So it has never been in my Bible readings like the Feast of Passover or the Feast of Purim.
For me Hanukkah was something about menorahs and miraculously lit candles; I didn’t understand its significance. Last year, though, my mom told me Jesus celebrated Hanukkah and showed me in the New Testament where He did.
Hanukkah is also called the Feast of Dedication. Here is the verse: “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the colonnade of Solomon.” (John 10: 22 ESV)
I pondered this. How important Hanukkah must be if the Messiah observed it. It was Christmas time when my mom showed me this verse. I was busy; but I felt desperate to understand the holiday. So I began researching.
I see now there are layers and layers of beauty and truth and spiritual realities between Hanukkah and my heart. In the New Testament, Paul teaches this: the human heart given to the Messiah becomes the temple of God, the dwelling place of the One John calls the True Light.
Here is a brief account of Hanukkah. It’s not exhaustive.
When Jesus observed Hanukkah it was in the same temple just a few generations earlier the events leading to Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, occurred.
This is what happened. A gentile empire, the Seleucid, following Alexander the Great’s conquered lands, occupied Israel. At first the occupied Jewish people were allowed to keep their faith and worship in their temple. But as totalitarians tend to do, government policy changed. Freedom of worship was ripped away. Persecution came. The holy temple was desecrated. An idol, a statue of Zeus, was erected and the blood of unclean pigs was splashed in pagan ritual defiling the holy furnishings standing in the temple.
Generations earlier God had instructed Moses how to have these furnishings constructed; how they should be dedicated and that they were to remain within the holy temple. These included the golden lamp stand–which the Hanukkah menorah now symbolizes.
But there were brave people of God, warriors, who fought to restore the holy place; the holy temple, and the holy items within the temple.
There are many marvelous details of the warfare to restore righteousness and birthright. Several years of fighting; of not giving up, happened. The Jewish warriors were led by Judah Maccabee. These fighters were small in number. They won. The Seleucids left Jerusalem where the desecrated temple stood.
Now the Maccabees began the work of rededicating the temple, of cleansing it, of restoring it.
God had commanded Moses the golden lamp stand must burn with pure olive oil, continually.
During the dedication, the priests only had enough oil to last one day. But after the lamp stand was lit, the oil lasted for eight days–enough time for pure oil to be pressed from olives by God’s people as Moses had commanded–so the golden lamp stand could provide light in perpetuity. God’s people did all they could. And when they couldn’t create pure oil from nothing, God did what only He could.
Last year as I learned and pondered, I had a flash of insight from the Spirit about Hanukkah and me, of we, who follow the Messiah.
Hanukkah is about fighting for holiness. Hanukkah is about knowing God is holy and His Word is holy. Hanukkah is about working, and about fighting, if need be, about losing safety, if need be, about being misunderstood- whatever the cost- to not let His purity in me, in us, become tainted, defiled, with current culture. And this is true no matter how big and powerful and threatening the current culture is.
Peter tells us, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” 1st Peter 3:15 ESV
The golden lamp stand and all the other structures in the temple were representative of God–and for those who believe Messiah has come–of Christ the Lord.
The Maccabees honored God with holy fierceness. That is what the Spirit was pressing me to understand. I am, you are, we are all living stones making the temple of God. I must do all I can, with holy fierceness of heart, in the spirit of the Maccabees, to honor Christ the Lord as holy. I must do this in my affections, in the way I treat others, in how I spend my time, in how often I give myself to prayer, in how generous I am to those who can’t return generosity, in what media I consume, in how I practice silence instead of verbal judgement of another.
When the Spirit pressed me to understand the significance of Hanukkah, the only words I have to describe it are white hot fire. Not as in judgement–as in importance.
And as I do what I can to honor Christ the Lord as holy, God will supply Himself, the Pure Oil, for what I cannot do.