Hanukkah, Festival of Lights

by Keith Macnaughtan

In an American magazine a writer has pointed out that, while Christmas comes with absolutely no authority from the Scriptures, the Messiah himself was present in Jerusalem at the time when Hanukah was observed, and (apparently) kept that feast.

We know that Christmas is supposed to commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, born almost 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem of Judea, and named Yeshua.

Apart from Scripture, secular history itself bears abundant testimony to this fact. For example, Tacitus, a Roman historian, who wrote about the year 61 C.E., said of the Christians: "They had their name from Christus, who was put to death as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius."

The Exact Year of His Birth is Not Known

But when was Yeshua born? It is believed that his birth has been set some years too late. We quote from Hadley's Bible Handbook: "A monk, Dionysus Exiguus, at the request of the Emperor Justinian, made a calendar, 526 A.D., reckoning from the birth of Christ ... Long after the Christian calendar had replaced the Roman calendar, it was found that Dionysus had made a mistake in placing the birth of Christ in 753 from the founding of Rome. It should have been about 749 or a year or two earlier." This year, 1984, is really, therefore, anywhere from 1988 to perhaps 1991 for no one knows for sure how far we are from the birth of Messiah.

The Date of His Birth, Too, is Not Known

Nowhere in Scripture is the actual date given for Messiah's birth. In fact, although there can be no certainty on this point, it is generally agreed by Bible scholars that it is extremely unlikely that December 25th is the date of His birth. By that time of the year the nights were quite cold in Bethlehem in the Judean hills and it would have been very unlikely that shepherds and their sheep would have been then in the open fields.

Keeping Christmas is Not Scriptural

History seems to make it perfectly clear that the observance of Christmas Day comes not from Scripture, but from church tradition. The very word 'Christmas' is really 'Christ's Mass'! The origin of keeping Christmas comes from the way the Roman Church adapted the festivals of paganism and incorporated them into their practices.

The "World Book" says "In 534 A.D. Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered the people to celebrate on December 25. He probably chose this day because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the birth of the sun"!!

Far and wide in the pagan world, from Egypt to Babylonia and from India and Arabia to Britain and Scandinavia, pagan people observed the occasion, sometimes with riotous behaviour. But the Romish Church took it over, along with other pagan customs, and called it a 'Christian' festival.

As early as about the year 230 C.E. a church 'father', Tertullian, lamented this development; he wrote: " ... the Saturnalia, the feasts of January, the Brummalia and Matronalia are now frequented; gifts are carried to and fro, New Year presents are made with din, and sports and banquets are celebrated with uproar ..." (The Two Babylons, Hislop, p. 93).

Is There an Alternative?

Now, is there an alternatrive to Christmas? We believe there is, without depriving the world of the joy which ought to be associated with Messiah's birth. So we say that Hanukah provides a ready alternative while it also has the advantage (unlike Christmas) of being mentioned in Scripture.

First, it occurs at about the same time of the year, in the month of December. Next, it commemorates one of the glorious victories achieved in Jewish history. Antiochus IV Epiphanes had captured Jerusalem and had entered the Temple. He had mocked Israel, and Israel's God, by sacrificing on the altar a sow, and by erecting a statue of Zeus, the Greek god. The Syrians had also destroyed the oil from which the Menorah lights were lit.

But Judas Maccabeus re-conquered Jerusalem. Of him it is said that he was a "warrior of amazing military genius. He won battle after battle against impressive odds."

He purified and rededicated the Temple. But when they came to re-light the Menorah, there was no oil! At last a single vase of oil which apparently had been overlooked by the Syrians was found. Miraculously it is said that vial of oil lasted for eight days until a fresh supply became available!

Messiah and Hanukah

But the important thing is that Messiah, too, was in Jerusalem at this festival and perhaps to observe it. He, as the Light of the world, spoke yet again of that eternal life which men may have by receiving Him as their Light and Lord. "And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Yeshua walked in Solomon's porch." "... I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 10:22; 8:12).

Do we need an alternative to Christmas? Then why not Hanukah? Well, why not?