Chanukah for Christians?
Chanukah in one sentence: The eight-day festival commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple by the Maccabees after having defeated the Syrian-Greeks who defiled the Temple and tried to force their philosophy and lifestyle upon the Jewish people.
Where does the story of Chanukah really begin?
It may surprise you but it all goes to back to about 2000 years before the Greeks to the Biblical account of Abraham.
Abraham was born in to a world of pagans who believed in a pantheon of gods with different creation myths, warring gods, territorial gods, sun gods, moon gods—-you name it and there was a god for it.
Abraham rejected the pagan beliefs of everyone around him. He found the one true God and spent the rest of his life teaching his family and whoever would listen about true faith.
Abraham was not called a Jew, he was a Hebrew. The word Hebrew (Ivri) means “the other side.” A common understanding is that while the whole world believed one thing, Abraham chose to stand alone as a knight of faith on the other side.
To stand alone against the whole world is not easy to say the least. Numbers do not prove truth. Millions of people can believe in a dumb idea and it is still a dumb idea. What’s popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular. It was one against millions and the one was right.
All the world’s monotheists are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. Abraham made a choice and that choice continues to impact our world. In fact, the Bible tells us that his name was changed from Abram to Abraham to indicate that he is the father of many nations. After his name was changed, it contained the letters “ham” short for the Hebrew “hamon” which means many. Combine that with the word “av” for father and you get Avraham or father of many nations.
When the events of Chanukah unfolded around the year 167 BCE, Judaism was the world’s only monotheistic religion.
For about 2000 years, the descendants of Abraham—the Jewish people— stood alone in its battle against the pagan world insisting that there is a Creator of everything created. That battle came to a head when the Greeks offered the world a lifestyle that put man at the center and moved god to the periphery.
In Greek culture, man and the human form was the temple that was to be perfected and worshipped. Science, culture, music and art were not expressions of Divine gifts but they were man’s domain to perfect and they expressed that human creativity and ingenuity was the be all and end all of the world.
The Jews opposed the Greeks and said that God was at the center, not man.
Man rotates around God and everything that man does must be reflected through the prism of the Divine will. The Greeks said that god rotates around man. Man is the center and the gods must be used and pacified to suit the needs of man.
The Greeks were bringing a great darkness to the world. The first statement of creation by God is when God says “Let there be light.” To oppose God’s wishes or to deny that God is at the center of our lives is to bring darkness to the world.
“Let there be light” is a kind of mission statement for the world.
The light of God is meant to shine in to every corner of the world. When there is immorality, murder, stealing etc. we block the light of God and darkness descends.
The holiday of Chanukah is celebrated at the darkest point on the calendar. There is the least amount of daylight hours in the dark days of the Hebrew month of Kislev. We celebrate the victory over the Greeks by lighting one little flame the first night and adding an additional flame each night until we the menorah is ablaze with eight lights.
Chanukah is about adding light to the darkness of the world. It is to remind us that in order to combat evil we just need to add more light.
The battle between the Jews and the Greeks is still being fought today. It is the battle between good and evil, between the forces that will darken the world and those who are trying to shine the light of God in to every corner.
While the Jewish people stood alone in its battle with the Greeks, the eternal message of Chanukah should resonate with all of those who put God at the center of their life for all generations.