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Today marks the first day of the eight days of Hanukkah (Chanukah)–December 8-16, 2012–which begins at sundown. Hanukkah is “one of the more recognizable celebrations of Jewish tradition and is not religious in nature. Rather, Hanukkah celebrates a nation’s heroes and the miracle they experienced!” It “recognizes the efforts of a group of freedom fighters known as the Maccabees” (quote source here). Here’s a brief history of Hanukkah from Chabad.org titled “Lighting the Darkness”:
Lighting the Darkness
Some 2100 years ago the Land of Israel came under the rule of the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus, who issued a series of decrees designed to force his Hellenistic ideology and rituals upon the Jewish people. He outlawed the study of Torah [the first five books of the Old Testament] and the observance of its commands, and defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with Greek idols.
A small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews waged battle against the mighty Greek armies, and drove them out of the land. When they reclaimed the Holy Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, they wished to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum), only to discover that the Greeks had contaminated virtually all of the oil. All that remained was one cruse of pure oil, enough to last one night–and it would take eight days to procure new, pure oil.
Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted eight days and nights, and the holiday of Chanukah [Hanukkah] was established.
To commemorate and publicize these miracles, we light the Chanukah menorah (also known as chanukiah) on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. This year, we start lighting the menorah on Saturday night after nightfall, December 8, 2012 (article source here). [For the complete background and story, click here.]
While Hanukkah celebrates the victory and provision of God 2100 years ago in the land of Israel, a quote from the article–“A small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews waged battle against the mighty Greek armies, and drove them out of the land”–reads like front page news today, doesn’t it? The tiny nation of Israel, reestablished in 1948, still has mighty enemies. Just read the latest article published today in the Jewish newspaper, The Haaretz, if you have any doubts.
There are many stories in the Old and New Testaments regarding the miraculous provision of God when resources were few or almost gone. The story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16) in the Old Testament immediately comes to mind as well as Jesus feeding the 4000 and the 5000 in the New Testament. Yet we live in an age today of self-reliance–looking to our own resources to keep us going instead of relying on God to supply our every need. The obsession to find a way to make more money and have more possessions–for whatever reason–along with an ever-present and ever-growing element of dissatisfaction with what we currently have–has spread a vast darkness throughout our land. We say we depend on God, but we really don’t. We depend on ourselves and ask God to bless our own efforts to succeed and prosper. And . . . we have it backwards.
The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” God will . . . supply . . . every need of ours! Not our “greed” but our “need.” If you read Paul’s letters and the account of his life after his Damascus Road experience with Jesus Christ that totally changed the course of his life, you’ll read about miracle after miracle of God’s provision for him to do exactly what God called him to do for God’s glory and not his own. And, he totally trusted in God and not in himself. It’s not that God didn’t use everything from his past (all of his educational and religious training, etc.) before he met Jesus Christ–He did–but He turned those talents around to serve God and the impact of Paul’s ministry (Christ-centered, not self-centered) has been felt throughout the entire world down through the centuries.
Paul “lit the darkness” by relying on Jesus Christ totally under every circumstance in his life (and remember that some of his letters were written from the confines of a prison cell). No circumstance Paul found himself in (good or bad) was out of God’s will for his life, and God used everything that happened to him for His purposes to glorify Jesus Christ and spread the gospel, and not to glorify Paul in any manner. Material prosperity and money were never issues with Paul, and his words are sorely needed by us today–“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him [Jesus Christ] who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:11-13).
I love the idea of “lighting the darkness” that is the central message of Hanukkah (and the gospel of Jesus Christ). Isn’t that what we as Christians are called to do? Jesus stated in his Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
In order to be light in the darkness, we need to recognize that we are in a spiritual battle 24/7 . . . and it never stops. Unfortunately, we don’t hear much about spiritual warfare from pulpits today, which is a big reason a vast darkness has fallen across our nation. I have addressed this topic in a previous blog post titled, “Regaining Our Balance” (click here for post). Our daily struggles are “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). We forget we are in a battle all the time and it’s not with the person who just cut us off in traffic, or the spouse who was mean this morning, or the boss who fired us. No . . . we are at war with the spiritual forces of evil, unseen to the naked eye, but more real than the flesh on our bones, and they use anything they can to distract us from pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).
Do we want to be “light in the darkness”? It starts by understanding that we are in a spiritual war. I’d like to make a suggestion that I intend to follow also for the next eight days of Hanukkah. Liberty University Online Ministries has an excellent study on “The Armor of God” (click here to get started) and I plan to spend the next eight days reading and studying it. How about you? Let’s start putting the Word of God into practice and allowing it to become a part of our lives 24/7. Is that a deal?
And let’s start “lighting the darkness” in the world around us . . . .
I’ve posted two YouTube Videos to this particular blog post–one to celebrate Hanukkah, and the other to celebrate God as the source of our strength and our help:
YouTube Video #1 (specifically for Hanukkah): “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” directed by Aron Sandler:
YouTube Video #2: “Total Praise” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:
Photo credit here