Today our Jewish friends across the world enter the season of Hanukkah, commonly recognised as the Festival of Lights.
The word ‘Hanukkah’ literally refers to ‘dedication’; the season commemorates the rebuilding of the altar by the Maccabees in the second century before Christ. The infamous Syrian King, Antiochus Ephaphanes reneged on his covenant with the Jews, by not only defeating them militarily, but humiliating their noble faith by entering the sanctuary, offering a pig upon the altar. This led to a period when the temple was closed, falling into disuse. Therefore the sacred Menorah, the candlestick with nine branches, which was designed to be lit continually, was permitted to go out, as Judaism descended into darkness.
The Maccabees were a family of priests who led a revolt against the mighty Seleucid Empire over which Antiochus Epiphanes presided as Emperor. They won their struggle for freedom, reopening the temple in a time of spiritual renewal. A new altar was erected and the Menorah was rekindled.
Every year at Hanukkah Jewish families will light a Menorah over a period of eight days. The central candle of the nine, known as the ‘shamash’ is lit first. The light from that candle is then used to light one other candle for each of the eight days. By the end of the festival the Menorah is burning brightly.
The Menorah was designed by God to teach Israel their need of spiritual enlightenment. It was Christ, however, who unfolded the fullness of the meaning when He declared, “ I am the light of the world.” The tragedy for our Hebrew friends today is, that while they celebrate God’s acts in the past, they do not know God because they reject Jesus as the Christ. For the next eight days they will faithfully light their candles and while the light of their culture glows bright, the light of Christ does not find a place in their hearts.
To our Jewish friends across the world we say “Happy Hannukah” but we also pray that the day would hasten when they would greet Jesus as their Messiah, looking on the one whom they have pierced. Then the light will truly shine for both Jew and Gentile.