LIGHTING THE CANDLE
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.
By today, a neighbor will have strung blue and white lights on his house for celebrating Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Another neighbor usually forms one string of lights into a large Star of David. Tonight, as the sun is going down, these and other Jewish families, as well as some Christians, will light the first candle on their menorah. Some will have menorah lights burning in their windows.
What today’s scripture calls a “festival of Dedication” is called today, Hanukkah, the Hebrew word for “dedication”. This joyous eight-day celebration is not one of the commanded feasts of the Old Testament. It came about in that 400-year period between Malachi, the last of the prophets, and the birth of Jesus.
Each of the eight days of Hanukkah is a remembrance of the dark time when Jerusalem was occupied and ruled by the cruel Hellenist King, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“God-manifest”). Under Antiochus’ harsh and oppressive rule all worship of Israel’s God was banned, and punishable by death. A crazed Antiochus even went so far as to desecrate the Jewish temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar to honor the Greek god Zeus. The Second Book of Maccabees, from the Apocraypha, opens a window on the terror that Antiochus unleashed on the Jewish people:
Antiochus 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 (2 Maccabees 5:12-14).
But in 167 B. C. Judas Maccabees (“the hammer”) began a three-year guerilla war against Antiochus and his armies. Although severely outnumbered, the Maccabean forces defeated Antiochus in history’s first war for religious freedom. That called for a feast of dedication, and the cleansing of the temple for worship. This meant restoring the menorah, or golden lampstand, to its position in the Holy Place. Priests discovered that they had only one vial of oil for lighting the menorah. The rest of the oil had been desecrated by Antiochus. Miraculously, a one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days!
Tonight, families around the world will gather to light the first candle, and to remember. They will give thanks to God for providing the oil needed to dedicate the temple. Today, Rabbi Arthur Waskow would remind all who celebrate Hanukkah:
“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.”(Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy)
Today’s scripture indicates that our Lord Jesus celebrated Hanukkah and the dedication of the temple. That makes this Hanukkah a good time for us to dedicate ourselves to Jesus and to let our lights shine for Him!
Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, has written a Hanukkah song with memorable lines for lighting the candle: “Don’t let the light go out. It’s lasted for so many years. Don’t let the light go out!”
In the midst of the darkness of our day, let’s not let the light go out!
PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP
Loving Father, we remember those who gave their lives for our religious freedom. We thank you for their bravery and dedication. We also remember before you those who are persecuted for their faith. We dedicate ourselves to follow Jesus and shine for Him. Amen.