The Hanukkah ~ Christmas Connection
By Steve Shermet
Hanukkah originated over 150 years before Yeshua (Jesus) was born. God's people, the Jews had fallen on hard times, a clear warning that their relationship with God was out of order (see Deut. 28). Israel's enemies to the north attacked and took control of the Jewish state. The invaders made it illegal to worship the one true and living God. If any Jew was found studying or even obeying the laws of the Bible, he would be executed. Many Jews were forced to worship idols. When the soldiers came to the town of the Hashmonean clan, now known as the Maccabees, to force this idolatry, the town's patriarch named Mattathias refused to offer sacrifice to the false god. A volunteer from the crowd, however, worked his way forward to offer sacrifice. In Holy indignation, Mattathias slew him.
Mattathias and his sons then killed the soldiers and fled to the mountains. From there they gathered together a brave company of men who decided it was time to reclaim their heritage and land. The Maccabees realized that the sins of the nation of Israel had resulted in their defeat, so they earnestly sought God in repentant prayer. They sought the Lord, and the Lord was found of them. Though they were terribly outnumbered, they chose to fight against their conquerors. Backed by their faith in the Covenant God of Israel, who had promised through Moses that, “five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword”, they fought and won just as God said they would. The small Judean army was victorious in battle after battle. They even retook the beautiful Holy Temple.
After evicting the pagans, they re-lit the menorah (candelabra) that stood in the Holy place, but to their horror most of the sacred oil had been destroyed. There was only enough to last for one day, and a new supply would take a week to prepare. In faith, the candles were lit, and preparations for more oil were made. Legend has it that the Menorah stayed lit for the rest of the week, until more oil was available. Generation after generation of Jewish people, to this very day, light miniature menorahs on Hanukkah to celebrate and remember God's gift of deliverance.
It should be noted that the Temple was the most sacred place in the Jewish world. It was at the Temple where God promised to meet with the people and forgive them of their sins. Each and every day Jewish people would sacrifice sin offerings and countless other offerings at the Temple. In this sense Hanukkah honours two types of salvation: deliverance from oppressors and the deliverance from sin pictured in the Temple service. The Temple was taken by the Syrians but rededicated one year later on the exact same date. That date was December 25th.[see www.ShalomTucson.org for more information.]
About 150 years later the Jewish people were again under foreign domination, but this time to Rome. Israel had again fallen into a spiritual malaise. They cried out for God to send them the promised deliverer, the Messiah.
Many of the Judeans (some of the ancestors of the Maccabees), believed that a humble carpenter named Yeshua might very well be the Messiah. They tried to make Him King at one time but He refused cf. 5 John 6:15. It wasn't until after His crucifixion and resurrection that His followers realized that He did provide deliverance. He didn't provide the Maccabeean style deliverance from Rome they had hoped for, but deliverance from an even more evil and powerful enemy, sin.
In addition, Yeshua promised to return one day to deliver His people from their mortal enemies (cf. Rev. 19:11 ff). We still await that promised return. In the meantime we are so thrilled that the Messiah came, we celebrate His birth -- which, as tradition holds, occurred on December 25th! In short, it can be said that during both Hanukkah and Christmas, we light lights and give gifts to remember and celebrate God's gift of salvation.
Here is the Hanukkah/Christmas connection. Both holidays credit God with providing salvation, and both holidays celebrate this salvation. Hanukkah celebrates God's salvation prior to Messiah's advent. Hanukkah isn't only about physical salvation from mortal enemies. The main Hanukkah event is the rededication of the Temple.
The Temple is where God's plan of salvation was typically revealed and practised before Messiah's coming. With Christmas we are introduced to Yeshua who fulfils what the sacrifices pictured. Therefore both holidays are legitimate for God-fearing people to honour. Hanukkah honours God for keeping His covenant promise to protect Israel. Had God not protected Israel, He wouldn't have been able to send us Israel's most cherished Son, Yeshua. Christmas celebrates the fulfilment of that promise and the coming of the Messiah.
Hanukkah and Christmas mean more than toys and pretty lights. It recalls God's gracious love and His gift to us
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life - John 3:16.