Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chappy Chanukah!

As I write this, it is seven hours until the beginning of Hanukkah.  This is about the third or fourth year we have celebrated this festival.  I love it more every year!  In John 10, Jesus was in the temple during the celebration of Hanukkah.   Hey, if Jesus can celebrate it, why can't I?

Leviticus 23 outlines the seven major Biblical Feasts (mo'ed - appointed times).  Two additional feasts were added to the Jewish calendar... ironically, both of them were the result of some evil entity trying to wipe the Jews off the planet.  (Where have we heard THAT before?)  Purim was added to celebrate what Queen Esther did to save her people.  And then Hanukkah was added during the "inter-testament" time.

If you don't know the background, Hanukkah is a result of the persecution of Antiochus, ruler of Syria, from around 175-163 BC.  He wanted to destroy everything Jewish and overtake and Hellenize Israel.  He is foretold in the book of Daniel and is an early fulfillment of the antichrist.  In 167 BC, Antiochus desecrated the temple, sacrificed a PIG on the altar, and set up a statue of Zeus in God's holy place.  All over Israel, Jews were being forced to worship pagan gods.

Antiochus (he called himself "Epiphanes, meaning god), almost succeeded, but for a small band of dedicated fighters from the Hasmonean clan. For three years, Judas Maccabeus (which means "the hammer") fought against the Syrians and eventually prevailed, against all odds.  Judas then led the effort to clean up and re-consecrate the temple in 164 BC.

As the story goes, they discovered that most of the oil for the menorah had been contaminated by the Syrians.  Only one container was discovered still sealed, which should have been enough to fuel the menorah for a day.  But the oil miraculously lasted for 8 days during the temple re-dedication.  Thus the feast of Hanukkah, also called the feast of Dedication or the Festival of Light, was instituted to remember the surrounding events.

God once again had intervened miraculously to rescue the Jewish people from extinction.  And just in time, too!  Not too long after this, He sent His son to earth to save not just the Jews, but all people.  Without Hanukkah, there would have been no Jesus. 

The nine-branched menorah is used during Hanukkah (instead of the usual seven-branched menorah that was always in the temple).  The candle in the middle is elevated and is called the Shamash, or "Servant Candle."  It is with this candle that the remaining eight candles are lit.  What a wonderful picture of Jesus, the ultimate Servant, who is the Light of the World!

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