In a community like Rockville with a large Jewish population, we see evidence everywhere that Hanukkah also claims December as its month of celebration. Far from just a Jewish version of Christmas, Hanukkah’s origins predate Christmas. The celebration goes back to the victory in 165 B.C. by Jewish rebels led by the Maccabean family against the persecution, oppression, and defiling acts from the Seleucid Dynasty – a group of Greek people ruling over Palestine. In commemoration of the freedom gained and ensuing rededication of the temple, Hanukkah joined the other big national feasts annually on the Jewish calendar. But unlike feasts like Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, and Purim…we find no biblical mandate or inspired endorsement of Hanukkah. However, most scholars believe that the “Feast of Dedication” mentioned in John 10:22 is actually a reference to the celebration of Hanukkah. We are told in the next verse that it was “in the winter.” But the most important part of John 10:22-23 is that even though Jesus spends most of His ministry in Galilee, He is in Jerusalem walking in the temple courts during this “unauthorized” feast. And what does He do while He is there? He takes advantage of the occasion by teaching the crowds who have ideas like MESSIAH and DELIVERANCE on their mind during the feast.
Now the main point I’m making is not about Hanukkah and whether or not Jesus endorsed it as an approved feast. What jumps out of the text and hits me in the face is the fact that Jesus is always looking for opportunities to share His message with minds open to spiritual ideas. Growing up I remember a lot of controversy over whether Christians should associate the birth of Christ with Christmas, since the Bible never gives authority for celebrating such a holiday. Obviously December 25th is not the actual birthday of Jesus. Yes, the origins of Christmas being a celebration on this particular day do involve the conversion of a pagan holiday. Is it mandatory to celebrate the birth of Christ this time of the year? Obviously not. Is it wrong to do so? I would say it’s a matter of personal liberty, like other feasts and holidays…in line with Paul’s words – “No one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (Colossians 2:16).
December 25th may truly have no more significance than any other day of the year, but the days that surround it present peak opportunities for sharing historical and Gospel truth about Jesus Christ with our friends and coworkers. Jesus is a hot topic right now. So instead of turning our backs on that discussion as a form of protest, I think Jesus Himself would use the occasion for genuine spiritual discussion about His purpose in coming to this earth in the form of a human…our Immanuel. So I encourage you to join the “Herald Angels” in singing to the world a song of Glory to His Name…this week…and every week.
To His Glory,
Preaching & Outreach Minister