Hanukkah and Jesus: Where Judiasm and Christianity Meet

Hanukkah and Christmas are always celebrated around the same time of year. Of course Christmas is always December 25, but Hanukkah takes places according to the Lunar, Jewish calendar on Kislev 25. This usually ends up being mostly during December. What is interesting to me however, is that while both of these festivals are theoretically celebrating two very different things for two different religions, they really are celebrating the exact same thing.

I’m not sure if its common knowledge or not that Christmas isn’t actually the day that Jesus was born, or if it is, tradition is so ingrained that we as Christians are content to keep it as a place holder for Jesus’ birth even though we know it’s not historically accurate. I believe part of that reasoning is also based on the idea that if it’s not the 25th of December, then we just don’t know when it is anyway, so any random date will serve. However, I believe two things are true: not only can we know when Jesus was actually born on this earth, but the celebration of Christmas as Jesus’ arrival to the world isn’t so far off….well, it’s about 9 months off to be precise.

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is recognized as the time when the Jewish people celebrate their deliverance and freedom from their enemies (the Syrians & Greeks), who had taken over and desecrated the Temple with idols and outlawed Jewish practices in 160 B.C.. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days as a commemoration of the miracle that took place when the Jewish people reclaimed the Temple. When they went to relight the sacred Menorah of the Temple, they found they only had enough oil to light the lamp for one day. However, in the eight days it took to procure oil, the Menorah miraculously stayed lit that entire time! That is why Jews celebrate with a special Menorah with nine branches (eight candles with one “servant” candle to light the rest) instead of the traditional seven-branched Menorah of the Temple. The holiday is also known as the Festival of Lights because of this.

Later in history, the celebration also became known as the Festival of Dedication, which despite not being commanded as an official festival in the Old Testament (although the date is referenced in Haggai 2:18), the New Testament still describes Jesus celebrating this festival with his disciples in John 10. They are celebrating the rededication of the Temple, taking it back from unclean, sinful hands and bringing it back to the purposes of the Lord. But the story goes deeper than that…

Another Festival

The seven festivals of the Bible are one of my favorite topics to discuss. It is so clear to me that God has a distinct plan for the world and for His interactions with us. The festivals are beautiful markers of some of those special times and interactions and they also show God’s heart to us. Not only do the festivals create the perfect opportunity to commemorate and remember all that God has done for us in a way that is fun and easy to remember, but they give us glimpses of the true festival and celebration that God has planned for us in the future new Heaven and Earth! God wants us to be able to rest and delight in Him.

But I digress; one of these holidays in particular has special meaning to this conversation: the Festival of Sukkot (or in the common tongue, the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths…I always wanted to use that phrase). This holiday is primarily to celebrate Gods’ provision of the Harvest and to commemorate the time when the Israelites were escaping Egypt and had to live in temporary booths, or tents, in the desert. It was a time of transition on their way out of slavery to the Promised Land. During that time, they had to rely on God for food (in the form of manna), direction, and protection. It was a time of great faith and intimacy with God. Jews today celebrate by living outdoors in makeshift huts for seven days. It is a wonderful way to remind us of the temporal nature of our lives here on earth, God’s blessing and provision that has brought us to this point, and our communion and relationship with God.

Digging Beneath the Surface

Ok now let’s dive in a little deeper. What is interesting is that the Festival of Tabernacles (usually in September) takes place exactly 9 months (or 40 weeks) after the Festival of Hanukkah (usually December)…..hmmm! What is God doing here?? He takes a festival about rededication, new beginnings, a fresh start after sin, a festival about bringing Light to the world….and then 9 months later, there is a festival about our relationship with God, about having him dwell with us here in our temporary lives on earth.

And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld His Glory, the Glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of Grace and Truth.

John 1:14

God Tabernacled among us. He came down from His place on high to meet us where we are in our humble, human, imperfect lives. He came to celebrate the harvest and His provision with us in the form of a feast! There is a reason why Jewish couples get married under a chuppa, or a type of booth or covering, which symbolizes a home. WE are the bride meeting our bridegroom under the chuppa, under the Tabernacle…and we get to meet him on this Feast of Tabernacles.

The clues point to Jesus’ birth being on this feast of Tabernacles with his miraculous conception taking place on Hanukkah, the Festival of Rededication and the Festival of Lights. (Now we could go into many other verses about timing seasonally and relation to the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin etc., but for the sake of brevity I just highlighted some key pointers. If you would like more info feel free to reach out!).

Why Eight Days?

As we look at these layers and layers of rich meaning that we find in these holidays and God’s purposes, there is one more final detail that I believe is important to mention. Numbers have meaning and significance in the Bible and since nothing is random, why did the miracle of Hanukkah last for eight days? Well let’s start looking at a number we know: seven. Seven represents completion and the days of the week. So in that context, what would eight mean? As the first day of the week signifies a new beginning, so also does the eighth day, but in a more profound way. I believe that the significance of eight days is God’s way of showing us that He is starting something new! A new virgin birth, a new beginning, a new covenant. Like in the story of Hanukkah, God is reclaiming something that was imperfect, sinful or desecrated, and cleans it and turns it into something new and redeemed. Hanukkah is God’s way of introducing the Light of the world and the new beginning that He brings with Him.

So, this month, whether you celebrate the rededication of the Temple, the Festival of Lights, the conception of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus or all of the above, we’re really all celebrating the same thing even if many don’t know it. Let’s help share that exciting news with the world and share the true Light of the World!

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