Because the yearly dates of Hanukkah are based on the Hebrew calendar, it’s not every year that Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve.
Tonight, Jews will light the first candle of their celebration after sundown, and at the same time Christians will light candles of their own at masses and sing Silent Night.
I can’t help but marvel at the significance.
To realize this, you might need to brush up on a little history (as I had to). In a nutshell, and although accounts vary, most of the sources I read agree that around 200 B.C. Jews in the land of Israel were not allowed to celebrate and practice their faith because of the tyrannical rule of Antiochus III The Great and his successor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Thousands were massacred, and the temple was desecrated.
Jews lived in terror and were forced to worship false gods until a band of warriors led by Judah Maccabbee, the son of a Jewish priest, rose up and drove the Syrians out. They restored the temple, and menorah lamps were lit.
And the best part: Though there was only enough oil on hand to keep the sacred lights burning for one night, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days, and as such the Jewish people have celebrated the miracle ever since with Hanukkah.
The significance is that the Lord accomplished two pivotal things then which still link our faith today:
1. He was faithful.
He delivered the Jewish people and their land from their enemies. As such, they were free to celebrate when just a little more than a century later Jesus was born, and he celebrated Hanukkah as an adult.
2. He kept His promise.
In Jeremiah 31:35-37 and many other places, G-d promises to bless Israel and that He will never allow them be wiped out. His call and mercy on believers are irrevocable, as it says in Romans 11:29.
At a time when Judeo-Christian values are increasingly under attack–and the land belonging to Israel continues to be threatened as yesterday’s news demonstrates–faith in ancient promises can seem imprudent.
And yet, over and over and over again history shows times like these are precisely when G-d shows up.
As I mentioned in an earlier post this month, G-d works best when there’s not enough, through imperfect people, and at impossible moments to free and redeem.
“Fear not, O Israel,” G-d says over and over and over.
“I will strengthen you,” He says.
“I will help you,” He breathes.
“I will uphold you, because I have chosen you and you are mine,” He promises.
When G-d makes a covenant, He keeps it.
Not only that, He longs to show us mercy.
If ever there was a time when Jews and Christians need to realize their shared history, it is now. And though some say it might be a coincidence that Hanukkah and Christmas begin on the same night this year,
I don’t believe there are any coincidences with G-d.
When you light your candles during these holy celebrations, think about how the people might have felt who lit the first menorah after they took back the temple, or who ignited the first lantern in the pitch black stable in Bethlehem. Think about how much they had to overcome to keep trusting in G-d in each of those impossible situations.
Now think about your impossible situation.
You know the one. The thing you won’t talk about at the holiday dinner table. That one big failure. Your broken heart. Your overwhelming loss.
Don’t be afraid, He whispers. I’ve got this.
Better than that, He’s got you.
Because the same promises that were for the Jews in 168 B.C. are for us today.
The same promises that were for the Jews first, and then by His grace the Gentiles, when Jesus was born in the City of David are for us, too.
Promises to redeem us.
One to free us.
Break the silence.
Make a way.
Heal the broken.
Here’s a beautiful song by Michael W. Smith which talks about these promises. I hope you can find a few quiet moments to listen to it this weekend, and that we can all celebrate the One G-d who is always faithful to all His people, and even and especially to you.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, dear friends.