Merry Chanukah?!! Happy Christmas?!!
This year, 2005, the first night of Chanukah will fall December 25, coinciding with Christmas. That hasn’t happened since 1959. Given this coincidence, it is a good year to teach on what the two holidays actually have in common.
While everyone is very familiar with the story of Christmas, most people do not know much about Chanukah. Here’s the brief background:
About 175 BC, the Greco-Assyrian Empire, under King Antiochus IV, ruled over Judah and Jerusalem. This relationship was fine with the Jewish people at first, since the king left the Jewish people alone, and they enjoyed their freedom. However, in 167 BC, King Antiochus changed, creating a law that stated it was no longer acceptable to worship the God of Israel, or to practice Jewish customs. Those who did such things would be put to death. The only acceptable religious practice was the worship of Greek gods. In fact, the army of Antiochus came into the Temple at Jerusalem, and defiled it, stealing silver and gold objects, and setting up statues of Greek gods. Even the altar was sacrificed into a pagan altar to sacrifice pigs to Greek gods. Thousands of Jewish people who refused to worship Greek gods, or to bow down to the king, were indeed killed. However, the Jewish high priest Mattathias, refused to bow down. His sons, the Maccabees, began forming an army to fight against the Syrian army. Despite being outnumbered out out-armed, the Maccabean army prevailed. After this victory, the first act was to restore and rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem. Chanukah in its essence is about the preservation of the Jewish people, and the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Chanukah is mentioned in the Bible, but not in the Old Testament, since the Hebrew Scriptures were finished around 400 BC, and the story of Chanukah occurred about 200 years later. Chanukah is actually mentioned in the New Testament, although most readers do not realize where it is recorded. John 10:22-23, says this:
“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade.”
The Hebrew word for “Dedication” here is actually “Chanukah.” So, what are the similarities between the two holidays? Let’s look at a few:
- Both are winter holidays.
- Both fall on the 25th. Christmas falls on the 25th of December, while Chanukah falls on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which is why the two holidays rarely coincide.
- Both holidays involve Jesus. Christmas celebrates Jesus; Jesus celebrated Chanukah.
- The two events occurred in a close timeframe. Historically speaking, the space of about 165 years between the events is very close.
- The names of the heroes of Chanukah were the same as many of the New Testament characters. The father of the Maccabees was Mattathias (Mattthew). His sons were Judah (Jude), Simon (Simeon, Simon Peter), Yochanan (John), Eleazar (Lazarus), and Jonathan.
- Both stories involve the Temple in Jerusalem. Chanukah celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple. In the Christmas story, the Temple in Jerusalem, built by Herod, played a key part. Recall that Jesus was brought into the Temple on the eighth day of His life to be circumcised. The Gospel of Luke describes two prophets in the Temple. The first was Simeon, a devout Jew who was given the prophecy that he would not see death until he saw the Messiah. When he came into the Temple that day, he took the baby Jesus into his arms and prayed, “Lord, let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation – a light of revelation for the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” He then proceeded to prophesy about the child to Mary and Joseph. Also in the Temple was a prophetess named Anna. She was in the Temple night and day, praying and fasting. She too gave words of prophecy to Mary and Joseph.
- Both stories involve the survival of the Jewish people so that the Messiah could be born. Chanukah is clearly about the survival of the Jewish people. The Christmas story also involves the survival of the Jewish people. If we were to do a biblical study, we would see that the prophecy of a Messiah starts with Abram, the father of faith, and is passed down to Isaac and Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons, which became the 12 tribes of Israel. One of Jacob’s sons was Judah. It was prophesied that the tribe of Judah would be the tribe of the great kings of Israel. From this tribe would come a Messiah. King David ultimately was from the tribe of Judah (and was even born in Bethlehem!) Prophecy continued to unravel, indicating that the Messiah would be of King David’s lineage. If we read the Gospels, we see that both Matthew and Luke start out with genealogies of Jesus, going back to King David and earlier.
If the Jewish people were ever killed, then the messianic prophecies could never have been fulfilled. No wonder Israel has had so many enemies throughout history (the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Amorites, the Amalakites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Hivites, just to name a few)!
The story of Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Messiah, really ultimately is a celebration of God’s preserving the Jewish people, since Christmas could never have happened if the prophecy could have been broken. And, just as Chanukah celebrate the Jewish people almost being wiped out by a foreign king, so too, Jesus and the Jewish people of His town were also nearly destroyed by a foreign king. Recall that Herod announced that he wanted all the Jewish boys age 2 and under in Bethlehem to be killed. Jesus Himself was almost killed in this wave of anti-semitic violence, had not Joseph been warned in a dream to take the child and flee to Egypt.
The bottom line of all of this is that God had a great plan from the beginning to bring a Messiah into the world through His chosen people. Despite numerous attempts to destroy God’s people, and therefore to break the prophecy of a Messiah, His people survived, and Jesus was born in the little town of Bethlehem.
Now we understand why Jesus observed the Feast of Chanukah. If God had not intervened, and there were no Chanukah, then there simply could not have been Christmas. There would be no Silent Night, Holy Night, had there not been eight nights of Chanukah to precede it. Really, both Chanukah and Christmas are part of one continuing unfolding of God’s plan to bless the people of this planet.
So, Merry Chanukah and Happy Christmas! And praise God, who put this whole miraculous plan together!
If you would like to receive articles like these on a regular basis, free of charge by e-mail, sign up for our newsletter.