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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lighting the Candle

Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem.
It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts
walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.
John 10:22-23

Just a few doors down from our house, neighbors have excitedly been getting ready for Hanukah, or the Feast of Lights, that begins tonight. The dad has strung beautiful blue Hanukah lights around their house and windows, with one string formed into a large Star of David. Tonight, just as the sun is going down, the family will gather to light the first candle of their menorah displayed in the front window.

What in today’s Scripture text is called the Festival of Dedication is actually Hanukah, the Hebrew word for “dedication”. This joyous eight day feast is not found in the Old Testament, but comes from that tumultuous period between the last of Hebrew prophets (Malachi) and the long awaited coming of the Christ.

Hanukah is a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, of dedication of life over disloyalty. The Gospel of John highlights Hanukah in order to emphasize Jesus as God’s true light.

Each of the eight days of Hanukah is a remembrance of the dark time when Jerusalem was ruled by the cruel Hellenist king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Under the reign of Antiochus all worship of the Lord God was banned and punishable by death. Antiochus even desecrated the Jerusalem temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar in worship of Zeus. The Second Book of Maccabees provides but a glimpse of the terror that Antiochus unleashed on the Jewish people:

He commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly everyone they met and to kill those who went into their houses. Then there was massacre of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of young girls and infants. Within the total of three days eighty thousand were destroyed, forty thousand in hand-to-hand fighting, and as many were sold into slavery as were killed.
II Maccabees 5:12-14

But a Jewish patriot, Judas Maccabeus, a son of a priest, led a three year guerilla battle against Antiochus. Maccabeus and his outnumbered forces liberated the holy temple in Jerusalem. As the Jews dedicated anew the temple for worship they sought to light the menorah or candelabrum. But they discovered that they only had one bottle of oil that had not been contaminated by Antiochus. Miraculously the one day supply of oil burned for eight days until new oil could be prepared.

Tonight as the sun sets, Jewish families, along with some Christians, will gather to light the first candle. They will remember how God provided enough oil to dedicate the temple and the peoples’ lives to His service. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, commenting on the celebration of Hanukah, reminds us: “There is no use pretending that the sun is always bright; there is no use pretending the moon is always full. It is only by recognizing the season of darkness that we know it is time to light the candles.”

Hanukah reminds us as Christians that Advent is a time to dedicate ourselves to living as children of the Light.

Light one candle for the Maccabee children.
Give thanks that their light didn’t die.
Light one candle for the pain they endured when their right to
exist was denied.
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice justice and freedom demand.
Light one candle for the wisdom to know when the peacemaker’s
time is at hand.
Don’t let the light go out.
It’s lasted for so many years.
Don’t let the light go out.
– Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul and Mary)




We come to you O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We praise you for the faithful men and women who through the centuries have kept the light burning. Today we dedicate ourselves to your service and to shining the light of the Lord Jesus into our world. Amen.

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