Chanukah lights way for Christmas
Sunday, December 4, 2011 at 5:03PM
Shema Yisrael in Biblical Judaism, Chanukah, Christmas, Festival of Dedication, Greek, Holidays, Jerusalem, Lights, Maccabee, Messiah, Syrians, Temple, religious freedom

Each year Christians celebrate Christmas with children’s pageants, carols, and gift exchanges. By the same token, Jewish people light candles, spin dreidles and open small gifts during the eight days of Chanukah. But what most Christians and Jews don’t realize is that there would have been no Christmas if it weren’t for Chanukah.

Chanukah commemorates the courageous uprising of the Jews against the Syrians, the guerrilla war they waged to reclaim their religious freedom, and the great victory they enjoyed as a result of God’s miraculous intervention.

The struggle began around 170 B.C.E. when the Syrian-Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes ruled over Israel.  Wanting a unified empire, he imposed Greek culture on all the nations he ruled. In Jerusalem, he erected a statue of the Greek god Zeus in the Temple courts and commanded the Israelites to worship it. Pagan altars were erected throughout Israel and the Jewish people were forced to use them to sacrifice pigs, which God called unclean.  The penalty for disobedience was death.  Bible study, keeping the Sabbath, circumcision, and celebrating holy days as commanded in the Bible were forbidden.  The Syrians also sacrificed a pig to Zeus on an altar they built on top of the Temple’s altar of burnt offering.    

A Levitical priest named Mattathias moved with his family from Jerusalem to the small town of Modi’in to escape the persecution.  When the king’s officers tried to make Mattathias offer a pagan sacrifice, he refused and fled to the wilderness.  Others joined him, forming an army that became known as the Maccabees.  For three years, this ragtag band of farmers fought against the mighty Syrian army and achieved amazing victories through God’s grace.

Finally the Maccabees launched a surprise attack, recapturing Jerusalem and the Temple.  They cleansed the Temple, and three years to the day after the Syrians had profaned it, rededicated it to the Lord with great joy. It was also decided that this re-dedication should be observed every year as the Festival of Dedication, or Chanukah.

Today, Chanukah is celebrated by lighting candles in an eight-branched menorah each evening to remember God’s miracle with the Temple oil. When the Maccabees regained control of the Temple, they found enough oil to light its Great Menorah for only one day, and, according to the Law of Moses, eight days were required to consecrate more oil. However, God made this little bit of oil last eight days until more could be prepared.

Looking at history through a spiritual lens, the Maccabees’ victory had a significant effect.  Defeat would have meant the end of Biblical Judaism and the Jewish people’s assimilation into Greek culture.  If that had happened, Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) could not have come as the Messiah. He could only come to an Israel that lived according to the Law of Moses so he could redeem mankind as the sinless Lamb who had not broken the Law. Therefore Chanukah should be celebrated by everyone who appreciates the coming of Yeshua.

Article originally appeared on Congregation Shema Yisrael - Rochester NY (
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