This year the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah and Christmas coincide. Although Hanukkah is joyously celebrated it is not mentioned in the Bible. Hanukkah is linked to the story of the Maccabees, heroes of Israel, who liberated their homeland from Antiochus, the king of Syria.
His forces tried to impose their Hellenistic culture on the Jewish people. The campaign was intensified in 167 B.C.E, when Antiochus captured Jerusalem, plundered the Temple treasures and sacrificed a pig to Jupiter on the temple altar.
The Maccabees led by the five sons of the priest Mattathias resisted. They conducted a successful three-year programme that led to the cleansing and rededication of the Temple.
Because of the constraints enforced on the Jews, they were unable to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. That was significant and painfully missed. Every year Sukkot is a time of great joy. My wife and I experienced the joy, fellowship and hospitality of Sukkot throughout the years we lived in Jerusalem.
When the Temple was restored to the Jewish people, they restored the days of Joy with Hanukkah and like Sukkot it continued for eight days. The first Jewish historian Josephus preferred the name Festival of Lights. Although not mentioned in the Bible, the Jewish Talmud provides itemized details especially with instructions for the lighting of the candles day by day.
The story is told of oil in what is now known as the miracle of Hanukkah. To rededicate the Temple, the Jews needed oil to light the menorah. They found enough to keep the light burning for just one night. Famously their supply lasted eight days when they were able to make more oil to keep the eternal flame aglow.
There is a clear connection between the Hanukkah story and events of today. Our Christian beliefs are under attack. Powers-that-be have destroyed our Sabbath. No longer is the seventh day set aside as it once was. Immorality throughout the world is expressed openly. Debauchery is rife. Idolatry for many gods is rampant. We have the arrogance and ambition of Antiochus in many destructive 21<sup>st century forms.
Jesus arrived into such a scene. He came to Israel when enemies longed to gain control and religious leaders functioned by rampant authoritarianism. It comes as no surprise Jesus described Himself as 'The Light of the world" and He did it often. Picture him in an abused Temple miraculously bringing light and restoration where the enemy had plundered.
The Bible describes Jesus in Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication, another name for Hanukkah. (John chapter 10, verses 22-30). The story described Jesus 'walking in the temple in the Portico of Solomon.' The people surrounded Him. The verb actually described the crowd 'encircling' Jesus akin to a mob!
Religious leaders were in the group and they approached Him aggressively. "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly," they said. Jesus spoke to them about the miracles they had seen. "The deeds that I do in the name of my Father, these testify about me." He said. Jesus had performed many miracles. It was open knowledge but rather than recognizing His true identity, their religious position was threatened and they feared Him when indeed worship was the more appropriate response.
The invasion by wicked forces, reminds all of us, we have been anointed to be The Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians chapter 6, verse 19) How many un-sanctified attacks have we experienced? Do we embrace the spirit of the Maccabees and fight with faith and passion against all manner of intrusion? As His Temple, we are each set aside in this world, to glorify God and Jesus makes it possible.
The oil provided for the Temple lamps is an amazing story, a miracle. When we pause to consider how the ancient Hebrews produced their oil, it becomes a valuable lesson. Oil was produced most frequently from the olive berry. It was shaken and pressed. The berry was bruised in a mortar, crushed in an olive press, ground in a mill or trodden under foot. It is described as "beaten" oil in Exodus chapter 27, verse 20 and Exodus chapter 29, verse 40. The oil used for lamps was specifically said to be "beaten.' (Matthew chapter 25, verse 3) His Light was costly. Our love of Jesus is meant to glow. He said, "You are the light of the world." (Matthew chapter 5, verse 14)
That joy and radiance is echoed by our relationship with Him. As I typed these words I immediately started to sing, "You Light Up My Life" a song by Debbie Boone. It was released in 1977 but it is as real today as it was then.
So when we think about the manger this year, praise him for the battle he not only engaged but the victory He has already won and your Lamp He lights every day.
Ron Ross is a Middle East consultant for United Christian Broadcasters (Vision FM). Previously he was radio news editor for Bridges for Peace in Jerusalem, Israel.
His career started at WINTV (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ron Ross' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/ron-ross.html