Tag Archives: Hanukkah

Hanukkah and Christmas

Hanukkah, an eight day Jewish celebration, which can occur in late November to late December, and Christmas, the Christian celebration on December 25th, are celebrated close together in time, but are they connected beyond that?

The quick answer usually given is no, but think about it a little. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC.

After conquering Judea, the Syrian leader plundered the temple, ended Jewish services and erected an altar to Zeus in it. Leading a Jewish revolt, Judas Maccabeus reconquered the city, cleansed the temple and initiated an eight day celebration in memory of the event. Eight lights lit successively call people to God’s holy place.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ approximately 167 years later.

Both of these feasts are about the Presence of God. For the Jews God was in the temple as Creator and their Savior through time. For Christians God reveals his presence in Jesus Christ, who proclaimed himself God’s Son, “the light of the world” as he celebrated the Jewish feasts in the temple. (John 7-10)

All the gospels report that Jesus cleansed the temple  and spoke of himself replacing it. Luke’s gospel  begins in the temple with the promise to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist and ends as the Child Jesus enters his “Father’s house.” (Luke 1-2) Our readings today link the restoration of the temple by Judas Maccabeus and the Jesus cleansing the temple: 1 Mc 4:36-37, 52-59/Lk 19:45-48

Far from being separate, Hanukkah and Christmas are connected in their celebration of God’s presence. Hanukkah reminds us of the temple, the place of God’s provisional presence. The Christmas mystery reminds us of the abiding presence of God with us in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Light that never fails, who gives life to all nations.

Jewish Feasts as Signs

Jesus came again to Jerusalem for another feast, the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, John’s Gospel read in as today’s Lenten reading says. It’s the Hanukkah feast celebrated sometime in late November to late December, recalling the rededication of the temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century BC.

In John’s Gospel the Jewish feasts are signs revealing who Jesus is; they inspire his words and the miracles he does. In fact, he replaces them.

On the Sabbath, (chapter 5) he heals the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethsaida. The Son will not rest from giving life as the Father never rests from giving life.

On the Passover (chapter 6), he is the true Bread from heaven, the manna that feeds multitudes.

On the Feast of Tabernacles (chapters 7–9) he calls himself the light of the world and living water.

On the Feast of the Dedication, (chapter 10,31-42) he reveals himself as the true temple, the One who dwells among us and makes God’s glory known. Once more, Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel his relationship to the Father, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Yet, once more hostile listeners do not see the signs and accuse him of blasphemy, trying to stone him or have him arrested. But Jesus evades them and goes back across the Jordan to the place where John baptized and “many there began to believe in him.” He will return to Jerusalem to raise Lazarus from the dead. (chapter11)

So many signs are given to us. We have the scriptures, the sacraments, the witness of the saints. How tragic not to follow them to the Word made flesh! Follow the feasts and let them speak to us.

Hanukkah and Christmas

Today I wrote a reflection for our province website entitled “Hanukkah and Christmas.” The Jewish and Christian celebrations coincide closely this year.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ approximately 167 years later.

Both of these feasts are about the Presence of God. For the Jews God was present in the temple in a special way. For Christians God is present in Jesus Christ, who spoke of himself as the temple of God in this world. His presence remains and cannot be destroyed.

Many days, I look out my window at a great church across the street here in Union City  that my community had to let go of some years ago. As with many holy places nowadays,  we couldn’t keep it going financially.

It seems to me the ancient mysteries of Hanukkah and Christmas constantly repeat themselves over time. Buildings, places, however sacred, rise and fall. Jesus Christ does not rise and fall. The Christmas mystery reminds us of his abiding Presence. He is God with us, Emmanuel, and he always gives us life.

Still, we mourn when buildings go.