Saturday, December 12, 2015

One Light to Rule Them All

Every night this week, we lit candles. Each night the light grows brighter and we remember the miracles and good works God has done.

A large fee waived.

A friend's brother, missing in a flooding area, found.

A friend's mother released to go home to heaven.

A child making a big choice for her future.

The world around us is a mess, but God's light shines in the darkness.

Last Sunday, we spun the dreidel, a simple little game of chance whose purpose is to remind us that "A Great Miracle Happened There." We ate jelly donuts and chocolate coins and thanked God for keeping us alive, sustaining us, and allowing us to reach this season.

For me, Hannukah has been a light-hearted holiday. It is a minor holiday in the Jewish year and does not carry the burden of atonement or judgment. It is simply a time to recognize light in darkness, victory over oppression, and the possibility of miracles.I

 was interested to note that Jesus celebrated Hannukah. I was hoping he used the day to say, "I am the light of the world," or tell the story of the unprepared virgins. Instead he said, "I am God's Son. I have been set apart." This brings to mind that Hannukah is about dedication, or making the temple holy again. Jesus is saying he is the temple AND he is already holy. No need to rededicate something that was never defiled.

Hannukah is all about victory, deliverance, healing, miracles, holiness, and ressurection. Sounds familiar to me. The Jews were looking for someone to rise up and overthrow their Roman oppressors, like the Macabees had done to the Syrians. Jesus had plans to overthrow a much greater oppressor.

I don't know if there's any symbolism intended in this or not, but when lighting the candles of Hannukah, there is one candle set aside to light the others. It stands higher than the other lights and burns for all 8 nights. I picture Jesus as this candle. He is the the constant, the light source, the one who turns us all into lights in the world.

This week's Torah Portion:
Genesis 41:1-44:17
Zechariah 2:14-4:7
John 2:12-4:42

Photo credit: slgckgc via VisualHunt / CC BY

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Lighting the Lights

And now, a break from the regularly scheduled Torah readings in order to lay some groundwork for the next feast. Hanukkah is not an Old Testament Feast, not one of the holidays set up by God in his rhythm of how the year progresses for his chosen people. But it IS a biblical feast in the sense that Jesus, as a cultural Jew, celebrated Hanukkah. And if it's good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me. This year, since we're traveling over Christmas, we're leaving the Christmas lights tucked away and pulling out the Hanukkah menorah to light instead.

The Feast of Dedication begins tomorrow at dark. As we count down to the darkest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere), we celebrate a violent victory with candles, games, songs, and (best of all) fried food and jelly donuts.

After their exile in Babylon, the Jews returned tot he promised land and set up a fairly peaceful, fairly prosperous society. They remembered the laws and commandments God had set forth and added structure to them to help keep them on track. They kept the first commandment, to worship only God, and the second, to not build or worship idols, despite the fact that all the cultures around the worshipped a pantheon of gods.

Enter the Greeks, stage right. This empire valued beauty, brains, and brawn. The Greeks believed in a whole family of gods with lives and stories as complicated as a soap opera. The Greeks believed in spreading their culture wherever they went. They were the cool kids of the 2nd century B.C.

In 175 B.C. Antiochus IV became king of Syria. (There's that pesky piece of real estate again!) Antiochus decided that all Jews should become Greeks. Some Jews jumped right on board, adopting the fashion and the language, and adopting Greek names. Most, though, didn't convert quickly enough for the Syrian king's taste. He sent his soldiers out to burn Jewish scrolls and kill anyone who would not worship Zeus, the head of the Greek pantheon of gods. Antiochus went so far as to build an altar to Zeus in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and have a pig sacrificed on it.

Several years into this "scrubbing" of Jewish thought and practice, Syrian soldiers tried to use an old Jewish priest named Mattathias to sway the tide of Jewish thought. If they could get this priest and his sons to bow down to Zeus, surely the rest of the nation would follow. They didn't expect resistance from this elderly priest, but then, they didn't know him. He wasn't about to bow down to any god but the one True God, and he certainly wasn't going to kill a pig to eat it (another of their bright ideas).

When one of the members of his mountain village stepped up to bow before the altar to Zeus, Mattathias flew into a rage. He killed the traitor and a soldier nearby. He tore down the altar to Zeus, then fled with his sons and anyone who would follow them into the mountains. There, this ragtag group that called themselves the Maccabees (the Hammers) staged a revolt. Armed with only sticks, rocks, and farm tools, they waged war against the Syrian army and their modern warfare supplies and tactics. In battle after battle, the Maccabeeans sacked the Syrians. The Jews had to win. They had more to lose.

They also had the Spirit of Almighty God raging inside them.

It took 2 years, but the Hammers sent the Syrians packing and won the right to worship who and where and how they wanted, which was as God commanded. Legend says that when they marched into Jerusalem as victors, though, they found themselves grieving instead of celebrating. Their beloved temple had been trashed, their books and candlesticks stolen. They needed to cleanse and rededicate the temple--and fast. And it would take eight days for them to make ritually clean, kosher olive oil for the task. "Luckily" they found a flask of oil with only enough to light the menorah for one night. They needed enough for eight nights, but this was all they had and they didn't want to wait. They lit the lights that first night, and then the second and third. Miraculously, the one drop of oil lasted the whole week.

Feast of Dedication. Festival of Lights. Hanukkah is a celebration of God's miracles. It's a chance for me to watch for miracles small and large in my own life and to remember that the God who worked miracles for his people back then is the same God I worship today.

Jesus celebrated Hanukkah in John 10. I'm going to visit that passage this week as we light the candles and celebrate miracles around our own table. For now, I plan to start jotting down the miracles I see around me on the white board above our dining table. I expect to be surprised.

This week's Torah portion:
Genesis 37:1-40:23
Amos 2:6-3:8
John 2:13-4:42

Photo credit: nonnygoats via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND