Our December holidays of Hanukkah and Advent/Christmas offer lessons in resilience. The challenges and victories that are described in these holidays have commonalities with our own challenges and victories in our present day.
Hanukkah — the word means “rededication” — commemorates the eventual victory of the religiously observant Jews over the totalitarian Greek-Syrian/Seleucid pagan regime.
In the second century B.C., Antiochus IV Epiphanes enacted oppressive laws criminalizing the practice of Judaism. His hatred of the Jewish people and their religious beliefs and practices was demonstrated when his forces attacked a peaceful Jerusalem, slaughtered thousands of Jews, and desecrated the Second Temple by offering sacrificed pigs to Zeus at the Temple’s altar. The Temple became the site for ritual prostitution and riotous, blasphemous parties. Those who continued to practice their Jewish beliefs were tortured and murdered. Many Jewish people abandoned their worship of the one God and assimilated with their pagan conquerors’ polytheistic beliefs and practices. Under these conditions, and against enormous odds, the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons roused the religious Jewish people to arms.
Mattathias didn’t live long enough to see the end of the war, but within two years Jewish warriors, under the leadership of Mattathias’ son Judah the Maccabee (“Hammer”), routed Antiochus’ pagan army and expelled them from Jerusalem. The Temple was cleansed, restored, and rededicated to God. The Temple’s branched menorah — Hebrew for “lamp” — was lit. But, according to the Talmud, there was only enough oil for a single day. Then the miracle of Hanukkah occurred. The branched menorah stayed lit for eight days until enough oil could be found to keep the Temple lamp lit. Thereafter, on the 25th of the month of Kislev, the Jewish people commemorated the miracle of the menorah staying lit for eight days despite there being only enough oil for one day. The ninth candle that lights all others is called the shamash — the servant candle.
Resilience. The book of Second Maccabees describes devout Jews such as Eliazar and the mother with her seven sons standing up uncompromisingly to their pagan oppressors, choosing to be tortured and executed rather than engage in pagan practices being forced upon them. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, devout Jewish people rose up against their pagan oppressors, using guerrilla war tactics to defeat them and recapture their land and their Temple. The historical account of Hanukkah is inspirational to anyone targeted by oppressive, tyrannical religious frauds. Hold true to your convictions. Practice resilience.
Advent and the Christmas account also teach us about resilience. Advent celebrates two comings — the yearning for Messiah the sacrificial Lamb to come and save us from our sins and the Second Coming of our victorious Messiah the Lion to establish His justice and reign of peace on earth.
Jesus was born in an oppressed land, ruled by pagan Romans. The puppet king Herod the Great, masking his paranoia, manipulatively used religious language in his false assurances to the Magi who told Herod of their search for the King of the Jews. Deceptively, Herod claimed that he, too, wished to worship the Messiah. But the Magi were warned in a dream of Herod’s true intentions. Thwarted in his schemes, Herod ordered the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem, hoping that in the process of murdering Bethlehem’s little boys he would also succeed in killing off the infant Messiah. But Jesus’ step-father Joseph, likewise warned in a dream, hastily gathered up his wife Mary and her son Jesus and traveled the hard road to Egypt only to return to the land of their ancestors after the death of Herod the Great. The Gentile Magi practiced resilience in their determination to find humanity’s Savior. Mary and Joseph practiced resilience when it came to believing in the promises of God and wasting no time to protect the infant Jesus from the murderous madman Herod the Great.
In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus is in the Temple during Hanukkah. His words and works precede Him. There at the Temple the spiritually abusive religious leaders target Jesus, surround Him, and demand to know if Jesus will point-blank declare that He is the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus answers the religious leaders by telling them He has already confirmed that He is the Messiah, and He again reminds them of his many miracles, which they know full well to be true and authentic. There in the Temple during the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah Jesus affirms His true, eternal identity as being the Messiah who is One with the Father — the second Person of the Tri-unity of God to whom the Temple was rededicated.
Resilience. Jesus the Messiah confronted the spiritually abusive religious frauds of His day, and paid for it with His life, only to reclaim that life in His resurrection. And so we must also resiliently confront the spiritually abusive religious frauds of our own day, come what may.
And so we await His Second Coming. With resilience.