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By David Bachelor, PhD
Pastor, Pearsall 1st Methodist Church
Sunday was the first day of Hanukkah. This Jewish holiday runs until next Sunday. Many celebrities took to twitter to wish their followers “Happy Hanukkah.” Gift-giving is an integral part of the celebration. In honor of the holiday SFGate e-magazine published, “12 perfect Hanukkah presents for goyim to gift,” a guide for non-Jewish people shopping for their Jewish friends. The article notes, “[W]hile much emphasis is always placed on what those celebrating Christmas are scooping up under their trees, it’s Hanukkah right now, which means it’s our time to shine when it comes to gift-giving.”
The Austin-American Statesman published a primer on this Jewish holiday. The Statesman observed, “Jewish kids know all about Christmas. They can’t help it. It’s everywhere this time of year. But Christian kids might be curious about Hanukkah or ask about menorahs or dreidels they see in the store.” The article explains the year-to-year variation in dates for Hanukkah (based on a lunar calendar instead of the solar calendar). The transitory nature of the lunar calendar has made for interesting intersections of Hanukkah with Thanksgiving (in 2013) and Christmas (2016). The holiday commemorates the victory of Jewish forces during the Maccabean revolt in the second century B.C.
Ironically, the story of Hanukkah is found nowhere in Hebrew Scriptures. The birth narrative of this holiday is contained in I and II Maccabees, books found in Catholic and Orthodox Christian Bibles. The books of the Maccabees describe the conditions in Israel during the Jewish uprising against the Assyrian Greeks who occupied Israel two hundred years before Jesus was born. In those days, the Greeks had desecrated the Jewish Temple in an attempt to stamp out the Jewish religion. A group of brothers (the Maccabees) rebelled against the Greeks and eventually took back control of the Temple. To make the Temple fit for worship of the God of the Bible, the Jews had to get rid of the pagan articles in the Temple. Once the Temple was cleansed the people re-dedicated it to God. The word Hanukkah means “dedication.” The other Scripture that mentions Hanukkah is in the Gospel of John. In John 10:22, the Bible says, “It was winter, and Jesus was at the Temple for the Feast of Dedication [Hanukkah].” Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem for Hannukah is in keeping with his presence for other Jewish holidays like Passover (Matt 26:2) and Sukkot (John 7:2).
The SFGate and the Austin-American Statesmen articles assume that “goyim” (Gentiles) are uninformed about Jewish holidays. These periodicals probably have assumed correctly. I would go a step further and suggest Gentile Christians are also uninformed that our Savior celebrated these Jewish holidays. This lack of knowledge persists even though His bride, the Church, is the only place that preserves all the Scriptures that give His people a reason to celebrate. So, this year when you hear, “Happy Hannukah!”, give a hearty reply, and realize it’s also your holiday through your Savior who celebrated it too.