Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Hanukkah Miracle

It's Hanukkah, a holiday celebration I've always liked. Since so few of my students had an understanding of the holiday, I taught them about it every year. Guess you could consider it my little contribution to the understanding of Kentuckians for someone else, a group different from themselves.

Yet a few days ago, I heard a national newscaster say, "It's almost Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday about the dedication of a temple." That was ALL she said. Well, yes, it is, but it's SO MUCH MORE than that! It's about the MIRACLE that happened! It's people standing up for their faith. It's the little guy's victory over the big government, and a story about people that did the best they could with what they had. Above all, it's a reminder that God is with us.... ALL of us.

Way back, around  150-200 years before Jesus Christ was born, life was hard if you were Jewish in many areas, as we know from reading the history in the Torah and the Old Testament. In Jerusalem, the Syrian Army had taken over the city, the Jewish temple was turned into a temple honoring Zeus. (Unlike the Jews, the Syrians were Pagans, meaning they were polytheistic, believing in more than one god. Most believed in the Greek gods you read about today as mythology.)  The Jews were forced into slavery and their religion was forbidden. For many years, they kept their faith alive underground.

Finally, in 165 B.C.the a group led by the Maccabee family, went to war against them. This small group managed to drive the Syrian army out of Jerusalem and reclaim their temple. But it'd been defiled and they wanted to re-rededicate it to God. The temple had a menorah, an "eternal" flame, which of course, had been extinguished by the pagans. As it turned out, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to light the flame for one day. It took eight days to get more oil, but they did it anyway.

The Jewish temples had gold menorahs, a candlestick with 7 lamps. Only the center one that was kept burning. The other 6, 3 on each side, were only burned at night or during holy times. This was a design given to Moses by God. (You can read about it in Exodus 25) Most of these golden menorahs, found only in temples, were taken by invading Armies because they're valuable.

But that one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days! It was a miracle! This is why Jewish families today celebrate Hanukkah, a word meaning dedication, to remember the miracle that happened, and to encourage them to remain faithful. A Hanukkah menorah has nine candles... one for each night, plus one in the middle that is simply used to light the others. (The traditional menorah was only allowed inside the temple, so they had to create a different one for use at home.) During Hanukkah, families light a menorah, for the 8 days of Hanukkah. The center candle is lit, then readings are shared as they light one candle the first night, two the second night, etc. It is a time for family celebrations, holiday foods, and gift giving, as they remember the miracle.

The date of Hanukkah is based on the Jewish calendar, so the date fluctuates between late November through December.  It's NOT a "Jewish Christmas" as some would say, but a noble remembrance that dates back long before the birth of Christ. Indeed, Jesus Christ himself, a Jewish boy, probably lit the Menorah, played the dreidel games, ate special foods, and participated in readings reminding him of his Jewish heritage.

While not Jewish, I've loved the story of Hanukkah for many years, ever since I found out what it was about. I have an appreciation for the God of the Jews, MY God as well, and am inspired by these faithful people that stood up for God, and the right to worship Him. The miracle of the light is a part of the Jewish heritage, but a miracle we can all appreciate.

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