“We’re all Jews, did you know that?”
As a kid, that was just something my grandmother told me every so often. I didn’t think much of it. But as I’ve grown in my faith life, I really have come to love that sentiment. The whole history of the Jews in the Old Testament is the history of our Faith as well.
Catholics are most keenly aware of this on Holy Thursday. Our celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is a clear fulfillment of the Passover promise. But the feast of Hanukkah, which began last night, is similarly a prefigurement of Christ and his plan of Salvation.
The story of Hanukkah that Christians read is in 1 Maccabees 4:36-59. The Jews had been almost exterminated an oppressive conqueror. They were forced to participate in pagan rituals. Some 40,000 of them had been killed in Jerusalem alone. As a final blasphemy, a pig was slaughtered on the altar of the Temple, defiling it.
Finally, after this outrage, a small band of revolutionaries, led by the Maccabees, were able to overthrow the Greek conquerors and regain control of Israel. The feast of Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the rebuilt and purified Temple after these miraculous military victories.
Jesus Himself celebrated Hanukkah during His life here on earth. In John 10:22-24, He was in Jerusalem celebrating the “Feast of Dedication”; Hanukkah is actually a derivation of the Hebrew word meaning “to dedicate.” The moniker “Festival of Lights” came much later, along with the story of the miracle of the oil. In the Old Testament, there is no mention of oil in the history of Hanukkah. The miracle of the oil is only found in the Talmud and is widely believed to be a legend.
I love Hanukkah because it is a reminder of the faithfulness of God. While the miracle of the oil may be just a legend, the miracle of the restoration of the people of God is a historically provable fact. A century and a half later, the restored Chosen People were able to bring forth the Blessed Virgin, who in turn was able to birth Christ on Christmas. There couldn’t have been a Christmas if there hadn’t been that first Hanukkah.
That seems to be a pattern of God. Things get truly awful, then He steps in and uses the awful circumstances to do something amazing. The ultimate way He does this is by using the Fall to necessitate the Incarnation and birth of Christ, which we will celebrate in a few weeks, but it has happened in our Faith history over and over again. When we look at our world around and see the darkness, Hanukkah is a smaller reminder of how God never ceases to bring us the Light.
Continuing through the season of darkness and anticipation of Advent, waiting for the Birth of Christ, the Festival of Light helps us remember what we are waiting for– the faithful fulfillment of God’s covenant with His Chosen People.
I won’t necessarily go buy a menorah, make latkes, or sing Ma’oz Tzur today, but every year when the feast comes around, I will always think of my grandmother’s reminder and thank God for His eternal faithfulness and mercy.
Copyright 2017 Hilary Thompson