8th December 2018

Hanukkah: Light in the Darkness

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”
John 1:1 (NIV)

In the western world, Hannukah has been called “Jewish Christmas” because it usually occurs in December, and the holiday involves eight nights of beautiful lights, tasty food and giving gifts. Hanukkah today in the Jewish world is referred to as the “Festival of lights” because every night, a new light is lit on a nine branch candelabra called a Hanukkiah (hah-noo-kee-ah). The traditional Menorah, which would have been used in Temple times, and has since become a special symbol of Judaism, has seven branches. However a Hanukkiah has nine. There are eight branches – one for each night of the holiday, and a ninth branch used for lighting the others.

The word Hanukkah חֲנֻכָּה in Hebrew literally means ‘dedication’, coming from the verb chanak meaning ‘to dedicate’. In fact, Psalm 30 is literally ‘a Psalm of dedication (hanukkah)’, referring to the dedication of the Temple. In the times of Jesus, this holiday was known as the Festival of Dedication, because it was the celebration of when the Jewish people were able to take the Temple back from the occupying power at the time, about 165 BC, and rededicate it to God. The traditional story that many already know surrounding this event involved the miracle of the oil that filled the menorah during the rededication of the Temple, and while there was only enough oil to keep it lit for one night, it remained lit for eight nights.

Approximately a century and a half later, Jesus would have celebrated Hanukkah in Jerusalem, as it says in the Gospel of John, Chapter 10:22-23. As mentioned before, the eight branches of the Hanukkiah are lit by a ninth branch which stands in the middle, with four on each side. This middle candle is called the “Shamash” which comes from the same root as the word for “Sun”. This candle is the light, which then spreads to all the other lights. In Jewish and Christian tradition, God is thought to be the light of the world. And as our header scripture states, Jesus came to bring light to the world.

Hannukah is a time of year when, in the depth of winter, when darkness seems to be more of the day than light, we remember that if we shine our light, it spreads to others. Light is the only force that can drive out darkness, and for Christians, Jesus is the true light.

Father, in the words of a well-known hymn, your Son was the “light of the world who stepped down into darkness, opened our eyes, let us see.” We thank you that in due season, he came to earth as our Messiah, God in the flesh, to give his life for all of humankind.

Study by Vikke Wisdom

About the Author:
Vikke Wisdom grew up in Ireland and attended Church in Dublin.

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