Survival: The Message of Hanukkah and Christmas
The month of December begins a wonderful opportunity for cross-cultural discovery. Some in the interfaith community refer to this cross-cultural holiday season as the December Dilemma. They ask, “How should Jewish-Gentile couples and families approach the holidays?”
We think the theme of survival provides a helpful frame through which to see appropriate meaning for the season. Why the theme of survival?
Well, Hanukkah addresses the miracle of Israel’s physical survival. Christmas, on the other hand, gives hope for spiritual survival to both Jews and Gentiles. That’s a miracle of a different sort. The distinctions are certainly worth a closer look at this time of year.
Hanukkah is definitely not “Jewish Christmas.” It is an important historical time in the history of the Jewish people. It marks the commemoration of a serious atrocity that threatened the survival of Israel as a people and as a self-governing community in the Middle East.
The primary historic record is found in the Book of Maccabees. Rather than outlining all the details here, it is important to simply note that Seleucid (Syrian) Greeks under the leadership of Antiochus IV tried to Hellenize Jewish culture. Hellenization was a systematic attempt to impose cultural change on all the peoples of the Greek Empire. When the Jewish people of Judea resisted, Antiochus desecrated the religious symbols in their holy Temple and attempted to impose religious assimilation all across the land.
A similar attempt occurred in modern times under the efforts of Communist Russia. A secular culture was imposed on Jewish people in the Soviet states. Religious practice was outlawed. Ethnic Jewish identity and unique cultural practices were socially discouraged and politically refuted.
So, the alleged miracle of Hanukkah celebrates the symbolic rededication of the Temple and the survival of the Jewish people. It also reflects God’s providential care of the Jewish people and celebrates His covenant promise to Abraham. Through that covenant the Lord gave the Jewish people a sign of His faithful loving-kindness. Also, through the Jewish people, He promised he would bring a blessing to all the nations (Deuteronomy 7:6-9 and Genesis 12:3).
The real miracle of Hanukkah doesn’t have anything to do with oil or the lamp—the Menorah—in the Temple. All of those stories are simply legend. However, a miracle associated with human survival is told through the story of Christmas, and that has a Hanukkah connection.
Amazingly, in the Hebrew Bible there is no reference to Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication. Those events took place between 175 and 165 BC, after the Old Testament canon was complete. So, interestingly, the only reference to Hanukkah in the Bible is in the New Testament. Have a look for yourself as you read about it in John’s Gospel, chapter 10, verses 22-33.
In that passage, we find the account of an interaction between Y’shua (Jesus) and some of the Jewish leaders in the Herodian Temple, perhaps close to 30 AD, almost 200 years after the Hanukkah events. John, the writer of the passage, introduces the account with the time signature, “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon” (John 10:22-23). That “Feast of the Dedication” is Hanukkah.
The report tells of a tense interaction between Y’shua and the Jewish religious leaders. They were asking Him to confirm whether He was the Messiah or not. It is apparent that Y’shua has been both acknowledging His Messiahship and accepting worship as Messiah. So, the question raised by the Jewish leaders was not necessarily really looking for information, but perhaps only an opportunity to challenge Him. You can read the interaction and see for yourself what happened.
As King Messiah, Y’shua was a far more powerful leader than Judah Maccabee. As a Redeemer Messiah, He came to provide a greater hope for survival than was accomplished by the overthrow of Antiochus and his army. As the living God, breaking into this world in His son, light in darkness, we have a miracle that surpassed the one alleged to have taken place during the Maccabbean revolution.
Human rebellion against the rule of heaven and any resistance to His gracious leadership in our lives results in a broken relationship with God. He warned from the very beginning, at the Garden of Eden, that rebellion and sin lead ultimately to physical and spiritual death. Eternal separation from God is given little discussion in Jewish theological circles, but the implications are nonetheless enormous.
Y’shua was born to provide atonement for sin and repair the separation from God. That restored relationship is called “eternal life” in the Bible (see John 17:3). Eternal life, therefore, is a spiritual survival that far surpasses the needs of political, military, ethnic or social survival. Y’shua came to provide that as Messiah Redeemer. That is the heart of the Christmas story.
It was for that reason that He spoke so clearly and dramatically on Hanukkah about His role as the Messianic Redeemer. His declaration, “I and the Father are One (Echad),” could not have been a clearer declaration of His Messiahship.
Jewish-Gentile couples can find common ground in the theme of survival in this season of Hanukkah. It is worth exploring the military/political history of Israel and survival of the people in the Second Century BC. The preservation of Jewish ethnic identity went through one of its most significant challenges at that time.
Hanukkah is also a season to consider the Messianic Redeemer, Y’shua. He is the greater spiritual leader who will defeat the enemies of Israel, rebuild the Temple, and rededicate the menorah along with sacrifices. Most importantly, that Messianic leader, Y’shua, has accomplished the only way for spiritual renewal and eternal survival.
This is a perfect season for Jewish-Gentile couples to consider these significant and miraculous events in Jewish history. So, if we can be of cross-cultural help in translating and explaining these truths, please let us know. You can reach us right here through the jewishgentiles.com website. Blessings, Happy Hanukkah and joy in Messiah’s Birthday.