JIM CREES: Chanukah and Christmas - Holiday messages touch Jews and Christians alike

On the evening of Dec. 16, Jews all over the world will light the first candle of Chanukah, the Feast of Dedication.

Chanukah is a family holiday. On each of the eight evenings that Chanukah candles are lit, families witness the lighting and recite the holiday blessings together.

The story of Chanukah is told and retold. A verse in the Torah expresses the importance of the passing on the “old, old story.”

“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.” Deut. 32:7

In the second century BC the Syrian-Greeks, political heirs of Alexander the Great, controlled most of the known world. King Antiochus IV ruled throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

Antiochus instituted reforms in the Middle East aimed at wiping out the Jewish faith.

It’s difficult to say what provoked this religious persecution. The religious and ethnic structure of Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean basin was a ‘mishmash’. As long as law and order was maintained and taxes were paid, rulers of that era didn’t really care who worshiped whom.

Yet, the Jews were ordered to stop their traditional practices, including circumcision, Sabbath observance, Temple ritual and sacrifice, and the study of the Torah.

The Jews of Palestine had suffered much persecution, but when the Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated by pagan rites, the buck stopped.

Mattatias, a countryside priest, and his sons began a rebellion that culminated in the defeat of the Syrian-Greek empire (not at all unlike the American Revolution).

The high point of the Jew’s victory, and the reason for the holiday was the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

NOT the political-military victory. NOT the development of an independent Jewish rule in ancient Palestine.

Chanukah in the Hebrew language means “the dedication.” The Jewish people celebrate the regaining of their religious freedom.

The revolt of the Maccabees in the second century BC nurtured the political and religious environment into which Jesus of Nazareth was born.

As a child, Jesus would have heard tales of heroism from the uprising that had occurred less than 200 years previous.

It’s recorded He celebrated Chanukah, the Feast of Dedication. “And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of the Dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.” John 10:22-23

As Christians around the world prepare celebrate the birth of Jesus, they should try to understand the historical aspects of this wonderful story.

Jesus may have been born in Bethlehem, but he grew up in the Galilee. It was here that Jesus spent his childhood.

The New Testament tells that after the Nativity, Joseph brought his family “ ... and dwelt in a city called Nazareth... “Matt. 2:23.

Nazareth during Bible times was a ‘‘backwater” settlement of Jewish farmers and craftsmen. Its apparent unimportance is reflected in the response of Nathaniel to Philip’s claim that the Messiah had been discovered here. “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46

While Nazareth may not have been a bustling metropolis, recent archeological studies have shown that the adolescent Jesus did not grow up in a cultural vacuum. Indeed, he lived within walking distance of some of the most dynamic cities of Roman Palestine.

It is reasonable to assume that His stepfather, Joseph, worked as a carpenter and stone mason in Sepphoris — the sometime capital of the Galilee in the Roman-Byzantine era.

Joseph is rarely mentioned in the Bible, even in the gospel accounts of the Nativity it is difficult to learn anything concrete about this important figure.

Joseph seems to have taught by actions, not words — although you can be sure he taught young Jesus the Chanukah story and the reason for celebrating the holiday.

What a tremendous influence this stepfather must have had on young Jesus. He was full of protective love for his family, a man of quiet faith, a man who did what needed to be done when it needed to be done.

No complaints, no moaning and groaning, no trying to skip out.

Joseph, the working stiff from Nazareth, tacks an addendum on the Christmas message of “Peace and Goodwill.”

His biblical biography shows us that this should be a season of quiet faith and a time of being ready to listen. The message of this season will only be fully understood if we listen for it.

To all of our readers, a very Happy Chanukah and a Merry Christmas yet to come.