Happy Hanukkah (or Chanukah, or Chanukkah, or Chanuka, or חֲנֻכָּה)!
Despite what the politically correct police would have you believe, there really aren’t that many religious holidays going on right now. There is just Christmas and Chanukah.
Lots of people assume Chanukah is ‘Christmas for the Jews’ – not so. The Jews have other holidays that are much more ‘important’ like Yom Kippur or Passover. But those aren’t around Christmas so Christians don’t pay too much attention (ironic because they actually mean something to our spiritual history too). But what about Chanukah? Should Christians care about the Festival of Lights? After all, Jesus celebrated it (John 10:22).
I personally like Chanukah because it is an example that reminds Jews AND Christians that our faith is anything but blind. Did you know that Daniel prophesied the events leading up to Chanukah 383 years before they happened? Let’s see, 2011-383=1628. In 1628, the Puritans were settling into a little place called Salem, Massachusetts (talk about irony…). That would be like one of them predicting Osama Bin Laden’s death this year. Here’s how it went…
In Daniel chapter 8, Daniel (who was exiled to Babylon after the Babylonians conquered the nation of Judah in 605 BC) is living at the palace of Belshazzar, which helps scholars date the texts around 551 BC (Daniel 8:1). He has a vision of a two-horned ram (the Medo-Persian Empire), a goat (the Greek Empire) with a long horn (Alexander the Great) which was later replaced by four horns (Ptolemy – Egypt, Seleucus – Syria/Persia, Cassander – Macedonia/Greece and Lysimachus – Thrace/Asia Minor). Out of one of the horns, the Greek one to be exact, came a small horn who was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Daniel 8:3-9). This is where our story picks up.
Antiochus IV tried unsuccessfully to invade Egypt. In 168 BC on his way back to Syria, he stopped into Israel and ordered his troops to seize Jerusalem on the Sabbath. There, he entered Solomon’s Temple (a big no-no because he wasn’t a Jew), put up a statue of Zeus, and slaughtered a pig (an unholy animal) on God’s altar. The Jews refer to this event as “the abomination the causes desolation,” which Daniel also prophesied about in Daniel 9:27. Antiochus continued with his ‘Hellenization‘ by outlawing Jewish scripture and religious customs, including circumcision.
Enter Mattathias, a Jewish priest who was ordered to sacrifice to Zeus and eat pig meat (unlike everything else, heresy does not go better with bacon). Mattathias refused and eventually killed a Greek soldier. He and his five sons fled into the mountains where other Jews joined them for a few years of guerrilla warfare targeted against the Greeks. Mattathias’s son Judas ‘The Hammer’ (or in Greek, Maccabeus) defeated the Greeks after three years of fighting we now refer to as the Maccabean Rebellion. The Jews stormed Jerusalem, entered the Temple, and relit the Menorah in the Holy Place thereby rededicating the Temple to God, not Zeus. Unfortunately, they only had enough oil to last a day, but amazingly it lasted eight, which was just enough time to prepare and consecrate a new batch. And that was the first Chanukah.
Back to Daniel (in 551 BC), “Then I heard two holy ones talking to each other. One of them asked, ‘How long will the events of this vision last? How long will the rebellion that causes desecration stop the daily sacrifices? How long will the Temple and heaven’s army be trampled on?’ The other replied, ‘It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the Temple will be made right again'” (Daniel 8:13-14).
Sacrifices were made once in the morning and once in the evening. Amazingly, 1,150 morning sacrifices and 1,150 evening sacrifices works out to three years, one month, and twenty-five days. Remember, in 168 BC Antiochus defiled the temple and stopped sacrifices – how long did that last you ask? They resumed 165 BC…hmmm.
Why don’t Christians celebrate the Festival of Lights? Frankly, it’s because we aren’t Jewish. Not in the religious sense, though obviously that matters too, but in the cultural sense. Unless you are a Jew who converted to Christianity, you are a Gentile, and it’s just not a part of our culture (if someone knows a better reason, I’m all ears). There’s nothing wrong with us celebrating Chanukah, it’s just not something Gentile Christians usually do.
So, if you wish someone a merry Christmas and he tells you he’s Jewish, wish them a happy Chanukah. It’s what Jesus would do. Literally.
(Note: for more information, read Hal Seed’s Future History. That’s what I did.)