Tonight begins the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. At sundown, our family will light the first candle of the menorah and pray. We’ll do this not because we are Jewish (we aren’t), nor because we believe God commands us to, but because we are grateful.
Hanukkah is the celebration of God’s miraculous preservation of His chosen people from a wicked ruler and the wicked hearts of some in Israel, who turned away from their God. The Lord has promised that He will never allow the Jewish nation to be destroyed, though many have tried with all their might.
As followers of Jesus, my family lights the menorah because doing so reminds us of several things.
First, we are reminded of God’s faithfulness. The nation Israel was, when Antiochus Epiphanies barged onto the scene, largely a nation in rebellion against God (see the Old Testament prophets’ rebukes). But God is faithful in spite of man’s unfaithfulness. He kept His promise to preserve the Jewish people for His purposes and for His glory. Such knowledge demands heart-felt worship of this great God.
Second, by lighting the menorah, we are reminded of the biblical injunction to love our Jewish neighbors and to speak out when the world seeks to destroy them, an occasion not limited to the days of the Maccabees.
The shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue ought to be a wake-up call to the non-Jewish world that something sinister is afoot, an ancient hatred that continues to fester to this day. Lighting the menorah reminds us of our duty to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jewish people; in effect, saying to Israel’s enemies, as one U.S. Army officer famously stated to his Nazi captors, “We are all Jews here.”
Third, for Christians, Hanukkah is especially meaningful, for without it there would be no Christmas. Consider how much different the world story might be had the Jewish people been destroyed. Jesus, who we believe to be the Messiah and the Savior of the world, may never had been born, His offer of salvation to anyone who would believe would never have been made.
So, tonight, we light the first candle on our menorah, as Christians, with thankful hearts. Thankful for our Jewish neighbors. Thankful for the Lord’s grace. Thankful for the Light He has given to the world through a tiny nation the world loves to hate.