Chanukah begins tonight, and I wish all my Jewish friends Happy Chanukah!
Several years ago, I had a little exchange with the Velveteen Rabbi. Obviously our world-views clashed, (she’s socially liberal, I’m conservative… etc.) but it lead to some very interesting insights, which I share below. Please let me know what you think.
As Chanukah approached, I was preparing a Bible study lesson for a Messianic study group, consisting of Jewish and Gentile believers, to deliver on the first night of Chanukah. The focus was – should believers celebrate Chanukah? If so, what was the significance of the holiday?
Previously, I read of the possibility of Jesus conception/Incarnation occurring at the time of Chanukah, with his birth occuring during the following Feast of Sukkot. But the first Chanukah was a delayed Sukkot because of the war, and after prayerfully considering it, I decided this wasn’t a direction I wanted to go. The idea of ‘when’ wasn’t as important as the fact that God was among us – Emmanuel. The Incarnation was most important.
Christians celebrating Chanukah might reignite feelings of assimilation among Jews – indeed Chanukah in part, was a celebration of the rejection of the Greek conquerors. So there’s this clash/confrontation that’s always present, and it struck me as strangely repetitive.
In leading a Bible study, my greatest desire is to remain true to God. Any exploration needed to be grounded on accepted Scripture, otherwise I could become doctrinally untethered as I believed had happened to the Pharisees. It was a struggle to come up with the lesson.
Chanukah is actually mentioned in the New Testament: John 10:22. Here the theme of being a light in the darkness pits the beliefs of the Jewish leaders against their own Scriptures, and the promise of Messiah. In other words, the Jewish leaders went further than just rejecting the outward trappings of Hellenization, they also insulated themselves from considering the possibility that God may appear to them outside of their expectations. They simply didn’t understand the Incarnation. And this too struck me as strangely repetitive – but still I was unable to put my finger on it, it was though I was in a cloud.
The time came for the Bible study and all I had was an unfinished lesson. I simply trusted God with the outcome, knowing He might have different plans.
When the Chanukiah was lit before the study it felt wrong, but I still couldn’t say why. In preparation, the Holy Spirit had prompted me with a couple of references to the shekinah cloud. (Exodus 19:9-24, 1 Kings 8:12). I compared the cloud – Shekinah, with Y’shua. The shekinah cloud believed to be the presence of God, yet Y’shua was rejected for being a ‘mere man’ – what were they expecting as the Messiah?
The lesson wasn’t particularly clear about the relationship between the shekinah and Chanukah. Before going to sleep that night, I reread John 10:22-38 once more. In the morning, it was clear: the shekinah cloud shielded the light, for when the cloud descended on the Tabernacle and Temple, no one could explain what was inside. The light inside wasn’t ready to be shown fully to the world at that time. (Looking at the cloud doesn’t really tell us the source, and without entering it we’re unlikely to come face to face with His Presence.) You must have faith.
The pillar of fire – that was another matter – it was the light that shone above all of Israel, in the darkness of an escape from captivity.
Light and the source of that light was exactly what the Feast of Dedication was all about.
The Jewish leaders ask Y’shua – “Are you Messiah?”
He had already told them at the Feast of Tabernacles (John 8:12).
The Jewish leaders seem sincere, but also guarded – there is a dark cloud of mystery around Y’shua. They don’t know, but are unwilling to really investigate His claims. They will not enter.
He gives them another chance. Look, seek, believe me by reading the Scriptures. But they don’t go read. They have no faith that the Holy Scriptures will explain who is before them, yet they embrace the authority of the Scriptures for their own purposes.
Y’shua is pleading for them to open their eyes. Even though they are like sheep, a reference to David, to Scripture (Psalm 23!), to Messiah. No one can snatch them from my hand should have immediately brought to mind Deuteronomy 31:8 – walking into that valley of the shadow of death. Jesus claims he is God.
They wish to stone him, thinking he is committing blasphemy, claiming deity.
He tells them – If the Scriptures cannot be broken – (and you use them as the basis of your authority) and even in your sinful state, you are called ‘sons of God’ (Psalm 82), how can you reject my saying I am the Son of God (2 Samuel 7:11-16)?
In the season of light, they meet the Light of the World, Y’shua, Messiah, and reject him, convinced that their light – their understanding, is sufficient. But Y’shua doesn’t give up on them. He provides another chance, another way of thinking about it – “If you don’t believe in me, at least believe in the miracles I have done.” Surely, in this season of celebrating miracles, the miracles speak of who He is, what God is doing.
No – they reject him again.
Can you see what is happening? Every year we have Chanukah and Christmas coinciding. The Incarnation vs the Rabbis. Every year, this passage is re-enacted.
The death and bloodshed of the cross have hidden God’s presence like a dark cloud for many, but has become a beacon of light and hope for others. Just like the shekinah, the Incarnation – Jesus Christ is the manifestation of God on earth.
There are those who believe in the “miracle of the oil”, but do not believe in the miracles that Y’shua, Jesus, the Light of the World, Messiah brings to the earth. The healing of millions. The tikkun ‘olam. Who can deny this?
I’m reluctant to celebrate Chanukah in the rabbinical sense, because it means the miracle of the oil is more important than the miracle of healed lives through Christ, which isn’t true. Who provided the sacred oil is more important than the oil. Rededication of a temple building is less important than dedicating the temple of your body to God.
A candle cannot be lit without the flame being ignited. We cannot be godly without the Spirit of God.
Jesus, the “Light of the World”, is the everlasting shamash, the servant that would spread light to the whole world.
And God lit up the world through Christ – Read Acts 2.
So I celebrate Chanukah whenever I share that Light with others, and they too accept the Light of the World.