– 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:
- 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.
- 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.