Light can be defined from a variety of viewpoints. Science explains it through the law of physics, stating that light is electromagnetic radiation. The great word master Miriam Webster called it, "brightness or illumination", and artists will explain light in terms of the spectrum of color by which we view the world around us. In Biblical terms, there are twelve different words which mean "light" in the Old Testament, and six in the New Testament. And although those words generally have to do with light itself or the source from which it comes, Scripture also uses the term "light" to symbolize understanding of a spiritual nature. So it’s not surprising that phrases such as “seen the light” pick up on that aspect of the word rather than the physical manifestation of light which enables us to walk into a dark room without walking into the furniture when we switch on a lamp.
Two wonderful holidays are celebrated during this time of year, Hanukkah and Christmas. Each holiday has light as a central part of its celebration. Hanukkah recalls the miracle which occurred when the Maccabees, a group of devout Jewish men and women led by Judah Macabee, overturned the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes. The Temple had been horribly defiled by Antiochus. The people and priests wanted to light the candles in the Holy Place and rededicate the Temple to the Lord, but after all the cleansing and refurbishing, which took a whole year, only one vial of pure olive oil remained- just enough for one day. Nevertheless, the priests decided to light the lamp stand in the Holy Place anyway and amazingly the oil lasted for eight days; just enough time to press more. Although Hanukkah is often called the "Festival of Light" because of this miraculous event, the name really means "dedication" which recounts the central focus of the miracle- the rededication of the Temple so that the Lord could be worshipped there again.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. Its focus is on the miracle of God becoming flesh and dwelling with man, bringing light into a dark world. The prophet Isaiah wrote, "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine upon them" (Is. 9:2), drawing on the concept of light not only in the physical sense, but in the spiritual realm as well. And Jesus used this imagery speaking of Himself in John 8:12, when He stated, "I am the Light of the World; He who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life." In preparation for Christmas, Advent candles are used to shed light on different aspects of the Christmas story; helping us to look forward to the miracle of Christ's birth.
While it may seem that there is no connection between the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and Christmas in reality they are intrinsically linked. Because of the faithfulness of devout Jews, the Temple was restored and the Jewish people survived. Through their lineage the Messiah entered the world. Even the Messiah Himself celebrated this holiday when He walked upon the earth (Jn. 10:22-30) and made a startling revelation about Himself when questioned at the Temple during its celebration. When remembering the miracle of Hanukkah, take note of how it helps us to foresee the miracle of Christmas (Jn. 1:1-5, 9). By entering this world in the form of a man, the Messiah became the Light of the World. When we follow Jesus the Messiah, His life brings us light and we need never walk in darkness again.
Ann LeFevre, M. Div.
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