Monthly Archives: December 2011

Between Miracles

 “Do you believe in miracles?”

– asks Matisyahu in the song Miracle. This will also be my over-arching question and theme for this post.

Last week I wrote about some of my views and shared a bit of my personal journey on whether or not you could have a Chanukah and a kosher Christmas celebration if you were either a Messianic Jew, a Messianic Gentile, or a Judaically informed Christian. I share my perspective as a Christian (The word Messianic is a synonymous term) who has been influenced and continues to be informed by Judaism and it’s philosophy and traditions. Since Hanukkah and Christmas intersect this year, I wanted to continue to explore a thematic parallel that is shared between the two holidays.

I originally sat down to write this post with a working title called Festivals of Light. I was going to look at how the Festivals of Light could describe both Chanukah and Christmas and how they relate to God and His Word, Messiah and His Disciples, plus customs and traditions associated with the Light of both festivals. But, like what happens so many times, inspiration strikes from out of nowhere (or somewhere) it seems and the next thing you know you’re being led into a direction that you hadn’t prepared for but amazingly ideas are flowing like a proverbial river. Ok, so I don’t know if this happens to everyone but it happens to myself enough for me to think it might be a common occurence that leads to creativity for everyone else.

Yesterday, my wife and I officially became members and a part of the mishpacha (family) at Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue. For the last 4 months we have been reading through 3 required books and attending a weekly class for membership. So, after a 4 month hiatus, this morning I picked up God In Search Of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel. I haven’t had the time to continue reading and studying through God In Search Of Man due to our membership class requirements with Baruch HaShem. I have posted multiple times in the past about this book and I started thinking again of what Heschel had to say about the mystery, wonder, awe, amazement and glory of God. One of the reasons that led me to Heschel and God In Search Of Man today, was a Facebook comment that a friend of mine posted last week about the death of one of his hero’s and fellow atheists Christopher Hitchens. In addition to that, I heard through song and movies a few references to miracles this past week. When I sat down to write this blog originally about the Festivals of Light, all these various thoughts from the last few days led me to start thinking about miracles and the shared miracle theme of Hanukkah and Christmas.

It is common to hear stories about miracles during Hanukkah and Christmas.

For Hanukkah, probably the most traditional and well-known story of a miracle has to do with the Miracle of the oil for the Temple Menorah. In the Talmud in tractate Shabbat 21, it is said that when the Maccabees defeated the evil Antiochus Epiphanies and his Greek army, they took back control of Jerusalem and the Temple. Upon doing this though, they found only enough oil to light the Temple Menorah (that should burn continually in representation of God’s presence) for one night and that it would take a total of 8 days to consecrate new oil that is fit to be burned in the Temple. Miraculously, the one night of oil lasted for 8 nights and hence God provided the miracle in order to create new oil and we have the 8 nights of Hanukkah. This is a great story and the primary event that the holiday commemorates. Perhaps though, a more historical and even more miraculous event to happen that led to Hanukkah being celebrated, is when the outnumbered and outsourced band of guerilla fighters led by Mattathias and Judah Maccabee overcame all odds and adversity to defeat the larger, better trained and more equipped Greek army. After the Jewish victory in about 165 BCE, on the 25th of Kislev, the Temple and Altar were cleansed and re-dedicated (this is what the word Hanukkah means) back to God. At this time, an 8 day festival was proclaimed with much feasting, song and sacrifice and is thought by many scholars and historians to be a belated festival of Sukkot (which last 8 days). This is also alluded to in 2 Maccabees 1:18. The Jews had been unable to properly celebrate the feasts during the years preceding the victory and Sukkot was the most recently missed holiday. I know of at least two other miracle stories which are interesting that relate to Hanukkah as well:

  1. 2 Maccabees 1:18-36 also says that the reason that the 25 of Kislev was chosen for the day of Hanukkah (re-dedication) was that, that was the same day that God had miraculously caused the fire for the sacrifice of the Altar to be re-lit by those priests, who had preserved in the Persian exile, the elements of the former fire of the Temple Altar.
  2. It is thought by some in the Messianic and Jewish Roots movement that Yeshua was born in the fall, perhaps during one of the fall feasts. If this was the case, then if we were to rewind the clock back 9 months, one would come to the approximate time of Hanukkah. This is all merely speculative, but it would be very interesting to suppose that the Light of the World could have been conceived during the Festival of Lights. That would be yet another miraculous event indeed!

For Christmas, it is often said (in the movies at least) that something that happens out of the ordinary or that cannot be explained easily at this time of year is a “Christmas miracle”. Many times this is probably thought of in the secular and general sense of the “spirit” of Christmas creating these “miracles”. I equate this type of “miracle” thinking to the kind of “miracle” of the mythical Santa Claus figure who can fly around (through flying deer who pull his sleigh) the world in a single night and drop gifts off at all the good little boys and girls homes. This is what I would call the fairy tale “miracle”. But for many who might proclaim witness to a “Christmas miracle” there is another source. A Source and Reality that is hidden and yet more real and evidenced than many would like to admit or contemplate. A miracle that has a deep-seated mystery about it and causes a wonder and amazement that is beyond belief, yet in some glorious way is believable. There is one such “Christmas miracle” that is proclaimed by many at this time that is one of the most miraculous events to ever happen in the history of the universe……a birth of a baby boy by a young women. What? What in the world is so miraculous about that? Absolutely nothing! That is, unless you believe, that the child (Yeshua) was born of a virgin (Miriam) who had been conceived by God (The Holy Spirit) and that the child who was born had been with God in the beginning before there was the concept of creation and time and that this child was in fact God Himself who had left His exalted position to take on flesh and literally became Immanuel (God is with us), the Author, Perfector, and Sustainer of our faith! That is the greatest miracle I have ever encountered!!!

What of these miracles of the past you might ask? What about the here and now? How do we really believe in miracles today?

In the book, God In Search Of Man, Heschel talks about the sense of wonder and miracles being the “source of prayer”. Heschel mentions that the religious Jew will pray 3 times a day: “We thank You……For Your miracles are with us daily, For Your continual marvels….”

As I sit typing this post about miracles, at this very minute I just received a text from a good friend of mine who lives in Georgia. My friend’s dad has been critically ill while waiting for a heart transplant and has spent the past few weeks in the ICU of the hospital. The last update I had from him was on Thanksgiving, Nov 24th. The text reads verbatim “Thanks everyone for all your support and prayers. There is a heart match and my dad goes into heart transplant surgery in an hour.” Praise God!!! I would ask that you keep this friend of mine and his dad in your prayers for a speedy and strong recovery. I would even ask for a miraculous recovery!

Heschel says that in all things, no matter how great or small, good or bad we perceive them to be we must remain aware of God’s wonder and miracles. We must seek and learn to invoke His great name and our awareness of Him continually.

“There is no worship, no music, no love, if we take for granted the blessings or defeats of living.”

Heschel says that one of the goals to the Jewish way of living is “to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things.”

According to Heschel, you might say that daily, we are constantly between miracles. Living life each day from one miracle to the next.

“Do you believe in Miracles?”

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!
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Chanukah and a kosher Christmas?

(My 4-year-old daughter approved the picture for this post because she thought it represented the title well….I couldn’t agree more, nice job mija!)

I’ve read many different blogs and articles in respect to these holidays over the past couple of weeks. Feelings run the gamut of excitement to loathing, from celebratory to critical. I’ve seen many Facebook posts and Twitter tweets with healthy doses of “hot” holiday opinions and “scholarly”comments. So, I thought to myself, self, since I have a computer with some online “space”, I might as well share IMHO as well.

Conventional wisdom (along with the majority of my family, friends and just about everyone else I know :-)) would say that these two holidays wouldn’t mix and match well, unless that is;

A. You’re a retailer who could benefit from the dual marketing schemes and crafty advertising to create a shopping frenzy that is even grossly above the one that we see today. This would skyrocket the revenue from tapping into the commercialism of both holidays or………

B. You’re a kid who gets not only one day to reap the proverbial harvest but an additional eight nights to flood your bedroom with things you will be tired of in three weeks, which will lead to your parents to constantly remind you to clean up your mess until they give up and just start to do it themselves or……….

C. You could combine both A & B, plus order in, or eat out Chinese food and go watch a movie on the big screen.

On the other hand, we could all save ourselves lots of money, headaches and arguments and just celebrate Festivus! No? What do you mean it was just made up for tv? Ok, ok, enough of my bad seasonal holiday humor. On with the subject at hand!

What about these two holidays from a traditional Christian and Jewish religious perspective? For the majority of Christians and Jews this is a non-issue. “Christmas is for Christians and Chanukah is for Jews.” A significant part of Christian history has rejected “all things” Jewish and in turn Judaism on a whole has rejected the Messianic claims of Yeshua (Jesus) espoused by Christianity. “The religions, less alone the holidays clearly don’t belong together!” this is an unfortunate, but common sentiment shared by followers of both. [As Morning Meditations blogger James states in the comments below; apart from the time of year, Chanukah and Christmas “really have nothing to do with each other”. On some levels this is true. As James notes, Christmas is a major holiday for Christianity and Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday for Judaism. They are also not equivalent in the sense that you could interchange either one culturally and basically end up with the same holiday, i.e. Chanukah would not be the “Jewish Christmas”. For additional response to these thoughts see the comments below.]

But for those of us involved with the Messianic movement in some form or fashion, it isn’t always so simple. I know some inter-married couples (where one spouse is Jewish and the other Christian) who struggle at this time a year with their extended family tugging on their coat-tails to focus on Chanukah and non-assimilation this or Christmas and Joy to the World that. I have non-Jewish friends and family who avoid “all things” Christmas and others who “redeem” all things Christmas. And still I know of others in the Messianic realm that won’t have anything to do with either holiday because it’s not a “biblical” holiday.

On this topic I could think of many questions that would be worthy of discussion:

  • As a Messianic Jew, could you or should you for that matter, celebrate Christmas as a legitimate expression of your faith in Messiah?
  • As a Christian informed by Judaism, what reasons or benefit could there be in celebrating Chanukah in respect to the Christ?
  • What about celebrating Christmas in solidarity with Christendom?
  • What about celebrating Chanukah in solidarity with Israel?
  • What is their shared history, themes and theology?
  • What about the pagan/secular influences of both?
  • Does pagan mean it’s inherently evil and unable to be given the right theology?

I’m probably not going to directly answer any of these ?’s in this post and even if I did it would not likely please anyone on this topic. Instead, I primarily want to share some of my journey and where I am now in respect to these two winter celebrations.

***Disclaimer*** I’ll answer a question I usually get when talking about anything “Jewish” related; “Are you Jewish?” No, the simple answer is No. The main problem with this answer is that it doesn’t set the heart of the person asking the question at ease. If my answer was “Of course I’m Jewish”, then everything would make sense and all things in the world would be right (sigh). We could at the least move on to whatever else we wanted to discuss in peace. But when I say “No” to the “Are you Jewish?” question, confusion abounds and further explanation must be given in a way that communicates “Why in the world would you do that for if you’re not Jewish?”. I digress………..

Last year I wrote A Christmas Conversation, which was a brief look at my personal history and some thoughts as it relates to Christmas. I was brought up in what I would consider to be a typical “Christian” household in Small Town, USA. I had a loving family and for the most part everything was good. I have fond memories of Christmas growing up as a kid. Since I was a child there has always seemed to be something a bit magical and mysterious about Christmas and this season in general. As I mentioned in A Christmas Conversation, I was shocked when my parents came to me at 18 or 19 years old and said that we weren’t going to do Christmas anymore but we were going to celebrate Chanukah!

Chanukah O’ Chanukah?

As mentioned above, I’m not Jewish. I also didn’t have any friends as a child who were Jewish, I didn’t know any of my parents friends who were Jewish and I didn’t date anyone that I knew of who was Jewish either that would have influenced me. So how did I end up celebrating Chanukah?

It started somewhere around 1999 or 2000. My parents had been introduced to the Jewish roots of Christianity by a Bible teacher and I think my parents originally thought of Chanukah as a nice Jewish alternative to Christmas. It was a holiday that was celebrated around the same time of year, but without the Pagan influences of Christmas. It was also not nearly as commercialized and had less pomp and circumstance about it. I was 20 years old and I couldn’t even spell Chanukah (I came to find out later it could also be spelled Hanukkah) and the only thing I knew about Chanukah at the time were the things I had learned from the Adam Sandler song.

So for the next few years I was a bit confused to say the least when it came to this time of year. I couldn’t give up Christmas cold turkey after almost 20 years, it was all I had ever known and yet I didn’t have a problem including Chanukah, but early on I didn’t really have the slightest idea of how to truly make it meaningful. It was mostly this type of struggle for me until 2007. That year was a watershed year for my faith. I was young in my walk with God and Yeshua (Jesus) and I begin to study for the first time on my own accord the pagan influences of Christianity in general but Christmas and Easter in particular. At this same time I was also introduced to Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue and began to study the Jewish roots of Christianity. In the beginning of learning both the Jewish roots as well as the Paganism of Christianity I was shocked at first and then I became angry. It was like I went through the 5 stages of grief in relation to this:

  1. Denial – This can’t be true! Say it ain’t so. Has this really happened.
  2. Anger – I was angry at the Church for suppressing this info and angry towards others who didn’t understand my new-found knowledge.
  3. Bargaining – I wanted to share with anyone who would listen and try to have them understand my position so I would feel understood and justified.
  4. Depression – Nobody cares about this. Everyone is right in their on mind and theology. I’m one of the few who knows the truth and that is a lonely position.
  5. Acceptance – I continued to research and ask ?’s year after year and begin to get a broader perspective and a greater understanding and depth of what is truth.

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t exactly the same, but I could relate to that model. Thankfully God in his rich grace, hasn’t left me to that same level of anger, confusion and pride that I had a few years ago in relation to this subject.

After a couple of years like that, in 2009 I begin to have a new perspective on both Chanukah and Christmas that continues to be reflective and thoughtful to this day. I don’t go into anything blindly accepting everything that has been told or shown to me and I don’t expect you to either. Below are some additional thoughts of mine and some links to blogs and articles that I found to be helpful on the Chanukah and Christmas quest for balance and truthfulness:

Chanukah for Christians? Here is a link to a blog I wrote last year called Consider Christ, Chanukah!

Also see, A Bissell of Hanukkah How-To’s and Inspiration, MJ Style by Rabbi Derek Leman.

A kosher Christmas? As far as my ghosts of recent Christmas past are concerned, they don’t haunt me the way they used to anymore. I think it was a blessing that I was able to learn the intricate history of Christmas and struggle for a few years with its implications. This is a healthy and necessary practice and process to keep integrity in our faith expressions. I should do more of this and so should you. Here are a few thoughts on what I’ve learned and where I am now:

  • The birth of Yeshua (Jesus) by the virgin Miriam (Mary) is historical.
  • The Bible gives details about the birth of Yeshua but doesn’t call it Christmas.
  • Christmas is a man-made holiday by Christians for Yeshua.
  • The Bible doesn’t prohibit celebrating Yeshua’s birth.
  • The Bible emphasizes and makes much of Yeshua’s death.
  • The Bible contains many God ordained festivals that reveal Yeshua.
  • Most scholars put Yeshua’s birth in the Spring or Fall and not the Winter.
  • Celebration of Yeshua’s birth most likely began in the late 2nd Century.
  • His birth became wide-spread and official by the Church in the 4th Century.
  • This was likely done to combat paganism, not to conform to it.
  • Most Biblical Festivals have almost identical practices that predate them.
  • The Winter solstice has been celebrated since before Yeshua was born.
  • Many Christmas customs seem to have their origins in non-biblical religions.
  • Some practices and customs can be redeemed, some can’t. Use discernment.
  • All of creation is good and from God but mankind can form into idols.
  • Trees in the Bible were used as decoration and symbolism by God’s people.
  • Trees in the Bible were made into idols and used in false worship by pagans.
  • God created light and He is the Light of the World. We are to be His reflection.
  • Christmas music can be worshipful, uplifting, inspiring and theological.
  • Peace, Joy and Goodwill for all men is a disciples goal and Messianic ideal.
  • Giving gifts and helping others is a good, fun and Christ-like thing to do.
  • Excessive consumerism is a sin.
  • Santa Claus is not real and we shouldn’t lie to children about him being real.
  • Santa Claus did start as a historical figure in the person of St. Nicholas.
  • It’s good to see churches and believers emphasizing Advent vs commercialism.

Here is a link to a very interesting article that was written in 1910 by the early 20th Century Messianic Jew Chaim Yedidah Theophilis (Lucky) called “Hanukkah or Christmas?”.

For some additional Jewish background to the Biblical “Christmas” story go to Yeshua In Context and watch the three recent videos Bethlehem Shepherds, Bethlehem Star, and Magi’s Gifts.

I’m of the opinion that if you are a Christian who identifies with Judaism and gleans from its rich tradition or if you are a Messianic Jew and find depth and beauty in a Messiah centered Christian tradition, you can (gasp) definitely celebrate both Chanukah and a kosher Christmas. What does that look like? It will vary on the individual level and from family to family. For my family, we put the emphasis on Chanukah in our home. We make use of Chanukah’s light and miracle themes and relate them to God, Yeshua and His people. We tell the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil. We light the menorah on all eight nights, bless God, give gifts, play driedel and texas driedel (for the adults), and eat latkes and donuts. For Christmas in our home, you won’t find any of the traditional decorations that you might expect. One of the primary reasons we do this is that for us and our kids, in the culture of America, we have no shortage of exposure to Christmas in its many forms. When we walk out the door of our house, it’s all over our neighborhoods, shopping places, work, school, etc. Chanukah on the other hand is harder to find, it’s less exposed and that to us makes it even more special and intimate. It is primarily limited to our house, a few friends, family and our synagogue.

Chanukah begins on the evening of December 20th this year and as I write this post that is only 9 days away. I think we all know when Christmas is.

I pray that this year your heart is warmed by God’s mercy and provision in your lives and you carry that glow or spark into the new year and I hope that the embers of His Spirit would grow day upon day into a full-fledged wildfire for Him and His ways. May He lead all of us to do mighty works for His Name and Glory!

May grace and shalom be multiplied upon you in the name of Yeshua the Messiah!

The Bond Family 2011

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