Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Menorah

“I am looking forward to getting out my Christmas decorations,” I announce to my friend Kathy thinking about all the bins in my basement. “I especially love the menorah my mother gave me.”

“You have a menorah?” Kathy looks puzzled.

“Yes, when I was growing up my family celebrated Hanukkah each year. When I got married my mother gave me one.”

“Why?” she presses me on it more. Kathy knows I am a person of faith in Jesus and I come from a Christian family.

I have never been asked why my family of origin celebrated Hanukkah, or why this tradition was passed down to my family. It was just something we always did. My mother even wrote a devotional book to go along with the lighting of the menorah. Each day of our Hanukkah celebration this devotional includes both Old Testament and New Testament responsive Scriptural readings, a hymn, a prayer and a memory verse.

Tomorrow at sundown marks the beginning of Hanukkah. As we approach I find myself reflecting on this interaction with my friend and the why of celebrating Hanukkah—at least for my little Christian family here in the Midwest.

Beyond my faith in Jesus, I appreciate the richness and significance of Old Testament Jewish culture and how the Israelites interacted with God and worshipped Him. Hanukkah is the same thing as The Festival of Lights and the book of John (10:22) records Jesus attending this festival in Jerusalem. Even then it was an eight day festival and it commemorated the recapture and rededication of the Temple following the victories of Judas Maccabeus in 165 B.C. According to the Book of Maccabae, once the Temple had been reclaimed a lamp was lit. This lamp according to Jewish law had to be kept lit and never extinguished. The only problem was there was only enough oil to keep the lamp lit for one day. This is where the miracle of Hanukkah comes in--the oil in the lamp lasted eight days, just enough time until more oil arrived.

In the time of Christ the Festival of Lights was a time of celebrating and yearning for freedom, both political and religious, and it was very controversial as the Jewish people were living under Roman rule. Rome was not thrilled to have a city full of riled up activists for Jewish liberation. Then Jesus goes and makes it even more controversial when he claims he has come to bring much more than political and religious freedom.

It was during the celebration of Hanukkah when Jesus says these memorable words, “The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

In my family our Hanukkah readings start with a poem. This poem sums up the overarching Biblical story of Christ. I have considered this absconding of a tradition might be offensive or confusing to my Jewish friends. However, to me it speaks to why I celebrate Hanukkah with my children, to the things we have in common, and to a continuity in a shared faith that God sometimes breaks into our world and does miracles.

Eight Little Candles by Jessie E. Sampter

I thought of Christ, the Promised One
And all that He has done,
I lit one little candle
To extol God’s only Son.

I thought about a man and wife,
And two who share one life,
I lit candles for Jesus and
The Church, the Bride of Christ.

I thought about the Trinity:
The Father, Spirit, Son,
I lit another candle
To praise the Three in One.

I thought about four marks of grace
Of faith, hope, peace and love,
I lit the candles and I prayed
O, fill me from above.

I thought how David used five stones
To face a foe alone,
And as I lit the candles
His obedience I owned.

I thought how God created
Six days of work and play,
I lit another candle
For the Sabbath to rest and play.

I thought how seven Churches
Prepare for Jesus’ reign,
The candles burn to promise
That Christ will come again.

I thought of how we celebrate
The Festival of Lights,
And lit the final candle
For Christ—the Light of Lights.

1 comment:

  1. It's nice to know someone else who celebrates Hanukkah! I'm only a quarter Jewish, but I enjoy passing on this tradition to my children, just like you. I'll be thinking of you'll as we light our candles every night. Latkes, dreidel games, the stories, I love it all :).