Guest writer: Nick Stead, theprayerplace.net
Candles on the Hanukkiah… lights on the Christmas tree; the sweetness of sufganiyot… the richness of mince pies, and presents given as beacons of hope in the darkest of months.
Coming at the end of such a long and emotionally exhausting year, the festivals of Chanukah and Christmas come as a welcome reminder that there can be joy amidst the sadness, and that there is hope on the horizon.
On the surface there are many similarities between these two festivals, but actually they are quite different. They commemorate different events, and are remembered in different ways. However, they are both Jewish in origin, and both remind us of Israel over 2,000 years ago at times of occupation.
Chanukah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, who fought against the Greek occupiers of Judea during the Second Century BCE. It was Judah Maccabeus, who led the revolt, successfully liberating and rededicating the Temple. Although he was killed four years later, his brothers continued the struggle, finally driving out the Greeks in 139 BCE. Chanukah is mentioned once in the New Testament, but not in the Tanakh.
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Yeshua (Jesus), the Jewish Rabbi who was like no other. He taught that everyone should love God, love their neighbour and even love their enemy, before he laid down his own life to become our atonement. We first read of his birth in the Prophets.
Micah tells us where the birth will take place: “You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” Micah 5:2 (ESV)
Listening to Isaiah’s words, this child must be someone very special. “A child is born to us; a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.” Isaiah 9:1, 6-7 (NLT). Could this be the Messiah?
Isaiah also prophesies about how the baby will be born: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.” Isaiah 7:14 (NLT). Could this baby be even more than the Messiah?
For me, the Christmas story is summed up in words from the Tanakh that are quoted by followers of Yeshua, not at Christmas, but at Passover. “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 (NIV 1984). Christmas is all about the coming of the King, the righteous King, who brings salvation. God’s gift of forgiveness and new life is offered to all who are humble enough to admit their need. Will you receive the King this December?