On Friday night, in millions of homes throughout the United States and millions more around the world, Jewish families will light candles in celebration of the first night of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah is the celebration of the survival of the Jewish people at a time in history when the Syrian-Greek King Antiochus and his armies tried to force the Jewish people to stop practicing their faith. Instead, the king wanted the Jewish people to worship idols. Jews who continued to observe the Sabbath, study the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) or circumcise their sons were killed.
To preserve their Jewish traditions and religion, a small group of Jews led by the Maccabees fought the much larger and powerful armies of the king.
Fortunately, for my family and me and for Jews and Christians in America and throughout the world, the Maccabees won.
The story of the Maccabees is told each year to remind Jews of this great victory that preserved their religion and their religious freedom.
Although rarely told, the Hanukkah story is also for Christians. If the powerful Syrian-Greek armies had succeeded in stopping the Jewish people from practicing their faith by force or by exterminating all the Jews, there could not have been a child born to Jewish parents in the town of Bethlehem more than 150 years later.
That event, which occurred 2,000 years ago, is recorded as the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
So, without Hanukkah, there might have been no Jesus, no Christ, no Christmas.
No Hanukkah, no Christmas! Maybe this year, Christians will begin to celebrate Hanukkah in recognition of this significant event leading to the birth of Christianity. Maybe too, Jews will begin to find joy in the fact that Christians throughout the world believe that the Messiah was born to Jewish parents — a Jewish man (and a rabbi or teacher, too!).
The gift of Hanukkah is Christmas! May this holiday season bring you much light. May you be a light unto the world.