Merry Christmas from CAMERA's Partnership!
CAMERA's Partnership of Christians and Jews wishes all our Christian friends a very Merry Christmas and all our friends a blessed and healthy New Year!
Dear Christian Leaders,
As we enjoy the Christmas festivities and celebrate Jesus' birth in Bethlehem of Judea, let us pause to consider one of a number of historical events that had to have happened in order for Jesus to be born as a Jew in the Jewish homeland, according to the Scriptures.
As you know, our Jewish friends recently celebrated the eight-day holiday of Chanukah. The Hebrew word, Chanukah, means dedication, and the holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem less than 200 years before the birth of Jesus. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was in the Temple during Chanukah, or the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22-23). So, Jesus was not only aware of the holiday, but his birth in Judea at the point in history in which he was born was, in a very real way, only possible because of the historical events remembered during the Feast.
Chanukah memorializes the victory of a small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, over the mighty Greek Seleucid army, which occupied Judea in the early second century before the birth of Jesus. After years of fighting, the Maccabees successfully reestablished Jewish control over Jerusalem and forced the Seleucids out of the land of Israel.
Upon recapturing Jerusalem, the Temple had to be cleansed and rededicated because the Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes, had desecrated the Temple by erecting an altar to the god Zeus and through the sacrifice of pigs. When they entered the Temple, the victorious Maccabees found one jar of oil to light the Temple menorah, which was only enough for one day. However, the oil lasted eight days, which is why the celebration of the rededication of the Temple is observed by the lighting of candles for eight days.
The Seleucid occupation of Israel was a dangerous time for the Jewish people because the very survival of Jewish identity was at stake. This is because the Greeks attempted to force the people of Israel to reject their belief in the one true God and accept instead the polytheism of the Greek Empire. Jews were also expected to abandon their obedience to Torah, and indeed, central tenets of Judaism such as Sabbath observance and circumcision were outlawed.
However, in the face of incredible persecution and against all odds, the Maccabees refused to reject their faith, drove the mightiest army on earth at the time from the land of Judea, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to the service of God.
These historical events are significant for us as Christians today for two important reasons.
First, if the army of Judah the Maccabee had not been victorious, it is entirely possible that the Greeks would have been successful in their efforts to wipe out Jewish identity and observance in the land of Judea less than two hundred years before Jesus was born.
If that had happened, Jesus would not have been born as the clearly identifiable Jew who is revealed as such throughout the Christian Testament. In other words, Jesus would not be who we know him to be and the events of his life would not have happened as revealed throughout the Scriptures. In short, there would be no celebration of Jesus' birth without the events that are commemorated during Chanukah!
Second, the victories celebrated during Chanukah provide inspiration and encouragement at a time of increasing world-wide opposition to the Christian faith in particular and to religious freedom in general. May we as Christians be strengthened to stand as the Maccabees did in the face of persecution and against all odds. Furthermore, in light of the rampant rise of global antisemitism and anti-Israel activism, may we rededicate ourselves in our commitment to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people and in support of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
Chanukah's commemoration of the Maccabees' victory over Greek occupiers memorializes the preservation of Jewish faith and identity in the homeland of the Jewish people less than 200 years before Jesus was born. So, as you celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem of Judea this year, remember this: there would be no Christmas without Chanukah!