By Ken Symes
December is a time when both Christians and Jews celebrate an important holiday. For the Christians it is Christmas. For the Jews it is Chanukah, also known as the Festival of Lights or Dedication. The only mention of this Jewish holiday is found in John 10: 22. "And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of Dedication, and it was winter." It is interesting to note that these two celebrations have much in common.
They have a common date. Both fall on the 25th of the month in their respective calendars. Christmas falls on December 25th with Chanukah falling on the 25th of Kislev (the ninth month of the Jewish calendar). This year Chanukah begins on the evening of December 15th on our calendar.
Both celebrations have their roots in history. Chanukah celebrates the cleansing of the Temple. In 168 BCE, while Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria was fighting with Egypt, Rome attacked Syria in the north. In order to defend himself from Rome he had to withdraw from his war with Egypt. Antiochus was so angry that while moving his army north he vented his fury against Israel, destroying much of the city of Jerusalem slaughtering men, women and children. He then slaughtered a pig and sacrificed it on the Temple altar, thus defiling the altar. With his residual army remaining in Israel he attempted to force the Jews to abandon Jerusalem and adopt the worship of the Greek gods. Many fled into the mountains; others cravenly complied.
Shortly after this Mattathias, the Maccabee, head of a priestly family, faithful to the LORD, and his five children, killed a group of Syrian soldiers in Modine attempting to enforce the decree. Many of those who had fled to the mountains joined with this godly family and by 165 BCE they had driven the Syrians from Israel. They rebuilt the defiled altar, cleansed and rededicated the Temple. Chanukah is the celebration of that victory over Syria and the rededication of the Temple.
Christmas is also rooted in history. Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem in about 4 BCE, a quiet inauspicious happening witnessed by a few shepherds, but indelibly recorded in G-d’s Word. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus (Yeshua), the Messiah in whom alone is victory over sin.
An Exalted Servant
Both of these celebrations exalt a servant. Chanukah is celebrated for eight consecutive days with the lighting of a candle for each day. However, there are nine candles on the Chanukah Menorah, one for each night (8) plus one. By tradition the candles cannot be large enough to produce much light as they must not be "working" candles. This created a problem. They could not light the celebration candles with another celebration candle. So, they added a ninth candle, called the "shamash" (servant) candle, to light the celebration candles. Today, on most Chanukah Menorahs the Shamash candle is elevated above the other candles. Since when is a servant elevated above those he serves? How eloquently this pictures Him who came as a servant to become the superior light that alone can miraculously light the light of our life.
Jesus is that servant! He said: "I speak that which I have seen with my father.." (John 8: 18a). It was G-d who said to Moses: "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him." (Deut. 18:18). Jesus also stated: "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." (John 6:38). He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53: 4, 5.
Both Chanukah and Christmas embody a miracle. When they came to light the Temple Menorah there was just one jar of consecrated oil that had not been defiled. This was only enough to last one day; not long enough to press and consecrate new oil. Yet it lasted for eight days! With eight days and the lighting of the eight Menorah candles they celebrate this great miracle. And what a miracle it was as G-d honored their faith!
The miracle of Christmas is simply that G-d became a man! "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1: 1, 14). Jesus said: I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8: 12). What a miracle! G-d took upon Himself Jewish flesh to become the Messiah/Redeemer! He did that for me! He did it for you! What a miracle!
Both of these celebrations fall on the 25th of the month. Both have their roots in history. Both exalt a servant. Both embody a miracle. How beautiful are these Holy Days. Though rooted in different historical events they point to the same servant and the same miracle: Messiah Jesus, G-d’s Son, the Shamash, by which the light of our life is lighted for all eternity! Have you allowed Him to light up your life? If not, why not do it today.