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Friday, December 3, 2021

The Festival of Lights

All over the world, Jewish people have been celebrating Hanukkah/Chanukah (also known as the Festival of the Dedication or the Festival of Lights). According to Chabad.org, "The Hebrew word Chanukah means 'dedication,' and is thus named because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple" (after the Jews led by Judah the Maccabee successfully rebelled against the Syrian Greeks). In the article What Is Hanukkah? we read: "When they sought to light the Temple's Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity." The article continues: "At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash ('attendant'), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, we light just one flame. On the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Chanukah, all eight lights are kindled." Thus, we understand why the observance is also known as the Festival of Lights.

As for the significance of the lights, the article goes on to ask and answer the question: "What are the flickering flames telling us?" One of the answers that follows is framed in these terms: "A little light goes a long way. The Chanukah candles are lit when dusk is falling. Perched in the doorway, they serve as a beacon for the darkening streets. No matter how dark it is outside, a candle of Godly goodness can transform the darkness itself into light." Hence, for observant Jews, it is clear that the light which emanates from the menorah represents a profound spiritual reality for their faith.

It is also interesting to note that this festival is focused on a miracle which was centered on the relighting of the lampstand which stood before the Holiest Place - first in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple at Jerusalem (First and Second). In the Torah, we read that God told Moses to "Make a lampstand of pure, hammered gold. Make the entire lampstand and its decorations of one piece—the base, center stem, lamp cups, buds, and petals." (Exodus 25:31) The instructions continued: "Then make the seven lamps for the lampstand and set them so they reflect their light forward." (Exodus 25:37) Originally, God intended that "The lampstand will stand in the Tabernacle, in front of the inner curtain that shields the Ark of the Covenant. Aaron and his sons must keep the lamps burning in the LORD's presence all night." (Exodus 27:21) Later, we read that "Bezalel made the lampstand of pure, hammered gold. He made the entire lampstand and its decorations of one piece—the base, center stem, lamp cups, buds, and petals." (Exodus 37:17) Even so, the images which the scriptural descriptions of the lampstand evoke in our minds probably does not do justice to a lampstand that was composed of about seventy-five pounds of pure gold! (Exodus 37:24) I can, however, imagine the light from those lamps reflecting off of the golden base which supported it - it must have been magnificent!

But what does any of this have to do with Christians? Does any of this Jewish stuff have any significance for us?

As I have noted in previous posts, this festival was an integral part of the Judaism into which Jesus Christ was born. Indeed, we read in the New Testament that Jesus himself observed this festival in Jerusalem. (see John 10:22-23) It is also interesting to note that Jesus was asked whether or not he was the Messiah on this occasion. (verse 24) To which, he replied: "I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one." (verses 25-30)

Moreover, with the Jewish emphasis on lights in connection with this festival, it is interesting to note some of the opening remarks recorded in the Gospel of John. We read there that Jesus was the Word of God, and that "The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world." (John 1:4-9) In this regard, some of Christ's remarks about himself take on a new significance. In the same Gospel, we read that Christ declared to the Jewish people who surrounded him: "I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life." (John 8:12)

In terms of the Christian religion, it is also interesting to note that the book of Hebrews mentions the lampstand referenced in the Torah. (Hebrews 9:2) Moreover, in the book of Revelation, we read this about John's vision of the glorified Christ: " When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave." (Revelation 1:12-18) Continuing, we read: "Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen. This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (verses 19-20)

Lampstands and lights? I may be wrong, but it seems to this blogger that (like the other Jewish festivals) this one should have a great deal of meaning for Christians. We can pretend that Jesus wasn't a Jew, and that he wasn't intimately acquainted with these things; but I'm thinking that we are depriving ourselves of spiritual insights/understandings that are staring us right in the face when we ignore these things. What do you think?

  

2 comments:

  1. This is an insightful study of the symbolism of light. I also believe that the Jewish roots of Christianity have undergone de-emphasis over the centuries. Christianity is really a form of Late Second Temple Judaism. As Christians we are also spiritual Jews and we are grafted into the tree with heritage Jews. There is no place for anti-Semitism in Christianity in spite of the history of Christianity in Western Europe.

    -- Neo

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Neo,

      Sorry about the tardiness of my response (I've been dealing with personal issues in the midst of answering numerous responses to these posts (most of them private). Yes, most 2021 Christians appear to be oblivious to the fact that the only Scriptures available to the ekklesia for the first 300 years of its existence were those known today as the Old Testament (there simply wasn't any collection of writings known as the New Testament during those years). In other words, early Christians preached Christ out of the Hebrew Scriptures (they believed that those writings pointed to Jesus). Sure, the churches in one region may have had access to a couple of Paul's letters, and maybe a gospel or two. Likewise, the churches of another region may have had access to a small collection of other epistles and may have only had access to one of the collection of sayings/miracles of Christ which were the basis for the gospels. Some churches may have only had access to Christian writings (like The Shepherd or Didache) which didn't even make it into the canon. Hence, even among the early Gentile portion of the Christian Church, circumstances and the available evidence suggest that the Jewish Scriptures were the principal documents of Christian evangelism during those years. It was only after the New Testament canon was codified (and then became widely available) that the Jewish roots of Christ and the religion he founded began to fade into obscurity.

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