Monday, December 26, 2005

Chappy Chanukah

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This year, we rejoice with our Jewish friends that December 25th begins the "Festival of Lights" known as Chanukah (also spelled "Hanukkah"), which commemorates of the Dedication of the Jerusalem Temple. The story is recorded in the Christian Old Testament in 1 Maccabees 4:36-61 (which ironically, is not found in the Hebrew Bible). The book chronicles the liberation of Jerusalem from the Hasmoneans.

In the year 167 BC, the truly evil ruler Antiochus VI Epiphanes had a shrine to Zeus erected in the Temple of Jerusalem. Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as Judah Maccabee ("Judah the Hammer"). By 166 Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful.

After having recovered Jerusalem and the Temple, Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one, and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, oil was needed for the menorah of the Temple, which was supposed to be kept burning throughout every night. There was only enough oil to last for one night, yet miraculously, it lasted for eight days--the same amount of time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil. An eight-day festival was instituted to commemorate this miracle.

The Maccabean movement has a "messianic" character about it. That character may be tied to the one New Testament passage (John 10:22-39) with a direct reference to the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple (Hanukkah). The questions about Jesus' identity as the Messiah, the charge that he makes himself equal to God, and the emphasis on the theme of eternal life suggest that the setting is part of John's effort in his "Book of Signs" (John 1-12) to show that in Jesus, the Jewish festivals and institutions reach their fullness. Certainly, the beautiful prologue of his gospel, which talks about the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ, speaks to the ultimate meaning of this "Festival of Lights."

"In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. . . . He was in the world, and the world was made through him, but the world did not know him. He came to his own people, and his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:4-5,10-14)
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Chanukah (also spelled "Hanukkah")

Gracious, there's more to it than that!

The Hebrew could be transliterated Hanuka, Hannuka, Hanukka, Hannukka, Hanukah, Hannukah, Hanukkah, Hannukkah,Chanuka, Channuka, Chanukka, Channukka, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Channukah, Channukkah, Kanuka, Kannuka, Kanukka, Kannakka, Kanakah, Kannukah, Kanukkah, Kannakkah, Ckanaka, Ckannuka, Ckanukka, Ckannakka, Ckannukah, Ckanukkah, Ckannukka, Ckannukkah.

Oy vey!