Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent, and this year, it was the start of Hannukah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights.” It is somewhat of a minor holiday in Jewish tradition, owing its prominence in our culture to the fact that it is celebrated around the same time of year that Christians celebrate Christmas. But the festival of lights recalls a dark period in Jewish history. Judah had returned to its land and had rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple, but for centuries it was ruled and dominated by powerful neighbors (Babylon, Persia, Greece). In 167 BCE, a Seleucid monarch, Antiochus IV Epiphanies, set up an altar to Zeus inside the Jewish Temple. Apocalyptic Daniel refers to this event as “the abomination of desolation” (Daniel 9:27; 11:30-31). It was a dark time for the Jews
This event scandalized the Jews in Jerusalem and led to the Maccabean revolt. Jacob Maccabees restored the temple with an 8-day rededication ceremony, lighting the menorahs in the Temple courts (which is inspiration for Hannukah). The Maccabean revolt would lead to the formation of the Hasmonean dynansty (140 BCE-37BCE) which ruled for a hundred years before the Herodians rose to power. (1 and 2 Maccabees in the Old Testament deuterocanonical books tell this story).
I am not Jewish, I don’t celebrate Hannukah. The closest I come is a rousing rendition of Adam Sandler’s Hannukah song. This is not my tradition to appropriate. But as I began my reflections this Advent on Darkness and Light, I think there is something worth paying attention to. I respect my Jewish friends and they have lots to teach me.
The lighting the menorah at Hannukah, was about rededication, restoring what had been profaned when Antiochus IV desecrated the temple. For Jewish people, it a festival about maintaining their Jewish identity in the face of a dominant culture, that is often antagonistic toward their community. It is an act of political resistance.
When we light our Advent candles and wait for the coming of the Lord, we too are doing something counter-cultural designed to stave off the dark. To light a candle of hope for the coming of Christ, is to take a stand against the powers, the principalities, and rulers of this age.
It is the 21st Century, and we have seen our own abomination of desolation. We have seen so-called followers of the Prince of Peace beat the drums of war. We have seen those who proclaim Christ as healer and savior, turn their back on the oppressed widow, orphan and the aliens in our land. We have watched as followers of Jesus have chosen personal freedom and autonomy over compassion, care and community in ignoring mask and vaccine mandates. We have witnessed (and sometimes participated in) the desecration of the image of God in people we don’t see politically eye-to-eye with. And when people are called to account for ways in which they have victimized, bullied, and oppressed people, we denounce accusers for the political correctness and their counter-culture. We fight for the freedom of the abuser instead of fighting for the life of the abused.
Light the Advent candle. Light it in hope that the world we live in, is not the world we will live in. Light the Advent candle. Light it in hope that it doesn’t have to be this way. Light the Advent candle. Light the Advent candle and know: a light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).