I grew up a nice Jewish boy in Brooklyn, New York. When December arrived it brought some interesting challenges. Why? My family owned a toy store! I knew little about Christmas, but what I knew was that it was “all hands on deck”!
Christmas was a celebrant and frantic time with exciting expectations for the “others,” but not for Jews. To me, whatever Christmas was, one thing I knew was that it was not Jewish. Besides, we celebrated Hanukkah/Chanukkah. So, the fact that my father owned a toy store was a win-win for “them” and me!
Unknown to many is that gift-giving on Hanukkah is an essentially American invention. So many Christians and too few Jews placed cultural pressure to accommodate the new Jewish immigrants and their kids from being left out. So, Hanukkah assimilated itself seemingly into the “Jewish” Christmas.
For too many Christians therefore, Hanukkah has as much meaning as Christmas has conversely for Jews. Yet little known by both communities is the historical connection that makes one not possible without the other.
In 168 B.C.E., a Syrian Seleucid king named Antiochus Epiphanes IV decimated Jewish life in the land of Israel.
Most noted was the desecration of Jewish worship and the Holy Temple by replacing it with the worship of pagan idols, including the killing of a pig on the altar.
This event came to be infamously known as the “Abomination of Desolation.” The story continues through the heroic efforts of Judah Macabbee resulting in the rededication of Jewish worship through military victory and ritual cleansing three years to the day, the “25th Day” (any coincidence) of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Hanukkah is the Hebrew word translated as “dedication.” It is remembered yearly by the lighting of the Menorah, commemorative of the original rekindling, and the story of how with just enough oil for one day it remained lit for eight days until additional oil could be prepared.
The prophet Malachi prophesied 250 years earlier that the “Lord would suddenly come to His Temple.” Did he come when under Zechariah, 150 years before him, the Temple was rebuilt as he spoke of a priest named “Joshua” (3:8-9) who would be the agency for the forgiveness of sins in a single day, speaking of the anticipated Messianic age (‘Branch’ is a reference to the seed of David) as a Day of Atonement?
No. Did he come to His Temple at the conclusion of the Temple’s rededication eventually known as Hanukkah? No.
Neither experienced the witness of the Spirit presence of God.
In the Gospel of Luke (1:67-80) we read about another Zechariah who prophecies identically of what is to come. Filled with the Spirit, he declares the salvation of the Lord is coming and already in motion with the announcement of his son in the spirit of Elijah, Messiah’s herald. He is coming, the Messiah, the seed of David, the one who forgives sins and reveals the light of God.
So it was. Simeon held these prophecies in his hands officiating at a Pidyan Haben (the redemption ceremony) 30 days after the birth of a first-born son.
Which son? He was the one that was anticipated (Lk 1:31-33). Yes, “his name shall be ‘Jesus’ for he shall redeem his people”. His Hebrew name is “Yeshua”, a form of the name Yehoshua, or “Joshua”. The Lord fulfills His promises to Zechariah and Malachi.
It should be noted that Yeshua celebrates Hanukkah in John 10:22ff., or didn’t you notice! Perhaps Hanukkah is a Christian holiday?
If it were not for Hanukkah, there would have been no Temple for the Lord to return. If it were not for Hanukkah, there would be no revealing of the light of the world. Historically, if it were not for Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas!
If it were not for the Jewish Messiah there would be no salvation for the Gentiles. Christmas celebrates Israel’s Messiah “a light for salvation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Apparently, Christmas is a Jewish holiday. Well, it should be! Tell your kids when they get their “toys” this year!
This “Christmas” perhaps we need to ask once again, “Where is the one who has been born “King of the Jews”?
–Rabbi Jerry Feldman | Adat Yeshua Congregation