Chanukah... and the humble doughnut
One of the best things about Chanukah is the scoffing of doughnuts... this coming from a self-confessed sweet-food-junkie! (writes Steph Cottam). You may be wondering what Christians are doing scoffing doughnuts at Chanukah, the eight day Jewish Festival which has just finished, and what it has to do with us.
Well, grab yourself a doughnut, and a steaming mug of something to drink, and I’ll go through what Jesus would have celebrated when He entered Jerusalem in the winter.
Most of us recognise Chanukah as a Jewish Festival... for fans of hit 90s show Friends you might even recall Ross’s attempt to teach his son Ben about Chanukah, and their Jewish heritage through a visit by the “Holiday Armadillo”. But it usually comes as a surprise to Christians when they realise that Chanukah is mentioned in the Bible. In one of those sentences, mid-passage, which can be easily overlooked and disregarded, John sets the scene for his readers:
Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. (John 10:22)
The statement, “it was winter” tells us which season the Feast was in, and there is only one Feast which occurs at this moment in the year in the Jewish calendar, Chanukah. The Feast of Dedication is the English translation of the word “Chanukah”, which means literally, “to dedicate”.
Jesus entered the Temple, in Jerusalem, during Chanukah. This was the very same Temple which forms the basis of the celebration of Chanukah. It may be hard for us to grasp this concept, as the Temple no longer exists today. It’s hard to comprehend a building, which to us just looks like a couple of walls, and excavated steps, with some large bricks lying where they fell, as being the same building rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah.
But here in John’s account of that Chanukah day, as Jesus walked through Solomon’s Colonnade, we know he would have reflected on what had taken place within the walls of the Temple of His Father. From the time Solomon first built the Temple, to the time Jesus “God With Us” was born, the Mishkan (Dwelling Place) of God had been targeted by Israel’s enemies. The account relating to the Chanukah Festival occurs during the period of history between the Old and New Testaments.
Antiochus IV King of Syria took control of Judea and ultimately commanded the Jewish people to stop being Jewish and worship him as an “incarnation” of the Greek god Zeus, or they would die. In an act of defiance against God, and to make his point known, Antiochus IV marched into Jerusalem and defiled the priesthood, such as forcing them to engage in Greek wrestling contests – naked, and desecrating the Temple, including taking the gold items for his treasury and sacrificing a pig on the holy altar. He also ordered a statue of Zeus to be erected, as he attempted to dedicate the Temple of God to Zeus.
As Jesus walked through the Temple’s covered walkways, He would have understood with a depth of compassion the stand His people made to follow God, regardless of the threat of death they faced. He may even have considered the story of the seven sons of Hannah, from the oldest to the youngest, who refused to denounce God as the Almighty, and refused to bow to the human king. Each of the boys, from the youngest to the oldest, was tortured and killed – while the others watched with their mother.
As people gathered around Him to listen to His teaching, Jesus may well have thought about the many martyrs who refused to turn away from God and follow after idols, as He spoke to the crowds,
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:27-28)
And His listeners would have also understood what Jesus was saying, as they also reflected on the shared stories of those who had refused to give in to Antiochus IV’s crazy demands. Some may even have related it to the current climate, as the Jewish people were oppressed under Roman rule, which caused them to blurt out,
“How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)
Just as the Macabees (five sons of Mattityahu, led by Shimon the wise, and Judah the strong) were the “saviours” of the Jewish people against Antiochus IV, who refused to stand back and allow their people to be oppressed any further, the crowds around Jesus wanted to know if He was to be their saviour against the Romans. It was within this question, this demand that the crowds were looking for a political saviour to rescue them from the Romans, to be to them as their heroes of old. When Antiochus sent a third army (the previous two had been defeated by the Macabees), consisting of 40,000 men, the response of Judah and his brothers was, "Let us fight unto death in defence of our souls and our Temple!"
After Antiochus IV had been defeated, the Macabees returned to Jerusalem, cleared the idols from the Temple, rebuilt the altar after the original had been profaned by the sacrifice of the pig, and made a new Menorah, because the original had been stolen. They held a service of Dedication on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, the first day of Chanukah.
On that first day, the Macabees set about lighting the Menorah in accordance with the command of God to always keep the Menorah burning:
“Order the people of Isra’el to bring you pure oil from crushed olives for the light, to keep lamps burning always. Outside the curtain of the testimony in the tent of meeting, Aaron is to arrange for the light to be kept burning always from evening until morning before ADONAI; this is to be a permanent regulation through all your generations. He is always to keep in order the lamps on the pure menorah before ADONAI.” Leviticus 24:2-4
But following the siege of Antiochus IV, they could only find one bottle of holy oil... this was the required amount for just one day’s lighting, and to prepare the holy oil required eight days. They lit the Menorah, and started preparations to make more oil, and throughout the whole eight days, the Menorah remained lit, demonstrating the power of God, and His final word over His holy Temple! This is why Jewish people eat foods cooked in oil... such as doughnuts.
We know that the oil of the Temple of God is the Holy Spirit; we know that the Temple of God is those who accept Jesus as Messiah; we know that we are commanded to keep the light of the Holy Spirit burning in our lives, and to never let it go out, or to hide it, but to allow His shine through us, “like a city on hill which cannot be hidden”.
The miracle of Chanukah is reflected in the miracle we receive through Jesus, His Holy Spirit living within us. So next time you munch on a doughnut, reflect on how the Holy Spirit can help you to walk in the light, just as He is in the light, and to never let your light go out, but to remain as a beacon of hope within the darkness of our present world.