Today was the first day of Chanukah which began officially on Friday night at sundown. Chanukah was one of my favorites times growing up.
- Playing dreidel games!
- Eating potato latkes!
- Eight nights of presents!
- Lighting the Chanukah candles!
As the eldest child in my family, I was allowed to light the candles. The procedure was to the light tallest candle (the Shamash), and use that candle to light the others from right to left, lighting one the first night, two the next and so on for eight nights. As I lit the candles, I would say the following prayer:
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam
asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu
l'had'lik neir shel Chanukah. (Amein)
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe
Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us
to light the lights of Chanukkah. (Amen)
Little did I know what the menorah and its candles were a beautiful reflection of the Light of the world that was to bring me from darkness to light.
Chanukah is usually overshadowed by the many Christmas activities. It is not a particularly important Jewish festival, and not mentioned in the Old Testament. Chanukah, the Feast of Dedication is an eight day celebration commemorating the revolt and the unlikely victory of the Jewish Maccabbees over the powerful Syrian Greeks who had invaded and oppressed Israel in 167 -164 BC (the period of time between the Old and New Testaments).
Jesus observed Chanukah (John 10:20-30), and it was during this Feast that Jesus publicly declared Himself the Messiah by proclaiming "I and the Father are One."
Celebrating Chanukah includes the telling of the story of how the Syrian ruler, Antiochus, brutally oppressed the Israelites, forbidding the practice of Judaism and descrating the Temple by sacrificing pigs on the altar. Mattathias and his 5 sons, including Judah (nicknamed Maccabbee, the Hammer), led a rag-tag army in guerilla warfare for 3 years, retreating to the hills after each battle.
Finally, the Jews defeated the mighty Syrian army and returned to Jerusalem to find the Temple all but destroyed and the oil for the lampstand gone, except for a tiny amount enough for one day. The eternal flame of the Temple Menorah, central to the worship of Israel, had been extinguished. Although it would take eight days for the priests to consecrate more oil, by faith, they lit the Menorah. Miraculously, the one day's supply of oil lasted those 8 days. Judah Maccabbee declared that these events would be commemorated annually at the Feast of Dedication, the Festival of Lights, Chanukah. A special menorah would be used that had nine candles, rather than the seven branched candelabra in the Temple, one for each of the eight days and one Shamash candle.
The lights of the menorah are symbolic of our relationship to Christ, the Light of the world. The tallest candle is called the Shamash which means "Servant." The Servant candle lights the other candles. Likewise, Jesus who "came not be served, but to serve" (Mark 10:45) imparts His light to us. He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), but He says that we are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14).
The Temple no longer stands, but God's Word declares that we are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and the light of the word. How is our oil burning? Sometimes an oil change is necessary. Or perhaps we are simply a quart low. Maybe we feel like all we have left is one day’s supply. It is reassuring to remember that the Bible teaches that more oil is always available when the undying flame has been ignited in our souls.
Thank you, Jesus, for imparting Your light to us. May we reflect You, bringing light to people still in darkness. Thank you for the miracles You provided 2000 years ago, and still provide today.