Feasts of Light

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION ARTICLE FOR

December 20, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

Both Christmas and Hanukkah can be legitimately called feasts of light.  Of course they celebrate two different events, but both are celebrated by lighting up the world of the celebrants.  In biblical religion light is the primary symbol for the presence of God.  It begins at creation when the first creative action of the divine mind speaks the words, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.”

When Moses was given instruction to build the Tabernacle in the wilderness one of the few articles of furniture was the menorah, or the seven branched candlestick.  It was actually a seven branched oil lamp.  This oil lamp was replicated in Solomon’s Temple and in the second Temple of Zerubbabel and in Herod’s refurbishing of the Temple in the first century BC.  The menorah was carried off to Rome in 70 AD when Titus destroyed the Temple during the first Jewish revolt.  It may be seen carved into the Arch of Titus in Rome today which was built in commemoration of that conquest.

In the year 160 BC the menorah played a key role in the victory of Judas Maccabeus over the Greek desecration of the temple.  When the Temple was rededicated after the Hasmonean victory there was only enough oil for a single day’s burning of the lamps of the menorah.  It would take eight days to consecrate new oil.  Miraculously the lamps burned for eight days until the new oil was ready.  This is why the Hanukkah menorah has eight lamps, or candles, rather than the traditional seven.  An additional candle is added as the servant candle with which the others are lighted for each day of the celebration.

Since the traditional menorah represents the days of creation and the final Sabbath of rest, the menorah takes us back to the first day and the word of the Lord, “Let there be light.”

When the Apostle John gives us a theological rendering of the birth of Jesus, his Hebrew mind set returns to the creation narrative.  The first words of his Gospel are, “In the beginning.”  What was there in the beginning?  There was the “Word” of God.  This was the “Word” which spoke into being the world we know.  “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the Light of men.”

Further on in verse 9 John tells us, “The true light, which lightens everyone, was coming into the world.”  For Christians then the celebration of Christmas is the celebration of light coming into the world.  In the 14th verse of John’s first chapter he tells us that this divine Word became flesh and tented or tabernacled among us.  Later in the Gospel Jesus is recorded as saying, “I am the light of the world.”  In other words, as the Tabernacle and Temple housed the light of God represented in the menorah, Messiah housed the light of God in his humanity.

It would be a shame this sacred season if we decorated our world with lights of all sorts and missed the light of God.  In John 3:19 the Apostle defines the judgment of God upon mankind.  “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved darkness rather than the light…”  As we observe the multi colored lights of the season do not miss the Shekinah of God’s presence.  “Let there be light.”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net). END-whs

 

 

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