Friday, December 4, 2015

The Good News of Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins this weekend. 

As a Midwesterner [insert: white, Kansas born, middle-class, Oscar Meyer-eating, hometown parade-going girl], I knew little about the Jewish culture and faith until I moved to south Florida over twenty years ago. I needed to know though. I'm glad I know. I am grateful for my Jewish brothers and sisters and for their voices, history, and culture. I'm thankful for my Jewish friends who navigate an oftentimes difficult road between their familial roots of Judaism and the faith that has grabbed and secured their hearts in Christ. Some would argue the two can't coincide. And yet, In Christ they do. Jesus makes a way for Christians to be Christians regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, politics, history, or family. It is in this unity of the gospel that we find depth of meaning written across the pages of history.

What follows is a personal story - I would call it a story of triumph. Interesting way to describe it you might say. However, I believe it is a fitting way to describe my friend's journey - one that brings her back to the gospel and reassures her that she can simultaneously claim her humanity (her Jewish"ness") and proclaim her faith. To deny either would be to deny the gospel. 

Read along as she visits the good news through the eyes of her people, but more importantly, through the lens of the Gospel.

I am Jewish and I am a Christian.

I was raised in a Jewish home, with Jewish parents and grandparents. I went to a Jewish school and lived in a Jewish community. I heard the full Gospel for the very first time when I was 29, over twenty years ago. A year and a half after that, I professed Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Integrating my Jewish background into my Christian faith is an ongoing process. The New Testament states that...

God is the same yesterday, today and forever... 

which got me thinking about God in the context of Jewish history.

I received a card that said, “May the Miracle of Hanukkah fill the season with wonder and joy." This challenged me to consider the miracle of Hanukkah and what God did as it relates to His character and the Gospel.

The account of Hanukkah takes place in the years between the Old and New Testament, in a time when Israel is taken over by the Assyrian-Greek Empire. There was extreme strife and rampant idolatry. Antiochus lV outlawed the Jewish religion and the worship of the one true God. The Assyrian Army desecrated and ravaged the Temple, the focal point of Jewish life and worship. They traveled through the country slaughtering all those who refused to worship their gods. A priest, Mattathias rallied a small band of men, the Maccabees, to eventually defeat the Assyrians.

Jewish tradition tells that when they began to restore the Temple, and light the Lampstand for the Holy Place, there was not enough oil to keep the lamp burning continually, as prescribed in the Torah. The miracle, according to the Rabbis is that a small amount of oil lasted eight days until new oil was produced. Thus, Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, lighting candles each day.

The story of Hanukkah is inspiring on many levels. It is about the victory of light over darkness, the small and weak over the strong and mighty. It celebrates the tradition that supernaturally a little was sufficient when much was required. Hanukkah is rich with history - history that puts God and His divine power on full display.

What exactly did God do?

He kept His promises. He honored His everlasting covenant with his chosen people. He brought glory to His name in keeping that Covenant. He displayed His sovereignty and power for all to see. He used a small band of men to bring about His grand plan.

God did what He always does.
He came down.

He condescended into our brokenness and corruption, because our resources are always inadequate.

In the darkness that became the Festival of Lights, He came down to rescue His children.

He came into the muck and mess of political, social, and cultural upheaval to save the fickle, faithless and confused.

He came in a time and space when His chosen people were breaking His Law.

He freed His children whether they were trying to follow His ways or not.

In His unconditional, relentless love and grace He delivered His own.

He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

In love, the very substance of the Triune God clothed in human flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit condescended and entered our broken world to become one of us, and one with us.
This is the Gospel.

It's Good News.

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
-Luke 2:10

(This article was written by my friend Debby Viveros - she lives with her family in south Florida where she teaches and tutors. Debby is learning that the gospel speaks to every part of our humanity.)

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