Tis’ the season…to argue.
The argument over the rather presumptuous question of “Is it okay for Believers to celebrate Christmas” is one which inevitably gets mixed up with another question about whether Hanukkah is an appropriate alternative. I’ve given my own thoughts in blogs of Christmas past, and I don’t want to re-hash any of that material. But I do want to make a comment about how this issue of “Christmas vs. Hanukkah” is, in fact, kind of a microcosm of a much bigger argument about whether traditions based on pagan traditions and/or fairy tales made up by Jews are somehow more acceptable to God than traditions based on pagan traditions and/or fairy tales made up by Gentiles.
Hence, the hypothetical question in the title of this blog.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 10 verses 22-23 it says that “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple area, in the portico of Solomon.”
Based on this brief passage, many assert that if we want to truly follow Jesus, we must “celebrate Hanukkah” as He did, and eschew Christmas, as He did (and does!)
But how did He “celebrate Hanukkah”?
The Gospel of John doesn’t tell us. It just says He was in the “walking in the Temple area” at the season of the year when it was happening.
But one thing we can be sure of. He did not light candles in a Menorah that was placed in the window of his family home in Nazareth the way Jewish people do today, for the same reason Jesus and the disciples walked from the Galilee to Jerusalem instead of taking Egged bus number 959. Hanukkah candles didn’t exist during the time Jesus was here for his First Advent, just like Egged buses didn’t exist back then.
The tradition of lighting 8 candles on Hanukkah emerged centuries after Jesus was in Jerusalem and was tied to a story about how the Maccabees wanted to purify the Temple after they kicked out the Seleucid Greeks but they could only find one jar of consecrated oil. This supply of oil was enough for one day, but it miraculously burned for eight days.
This story is nothing but a fairy tale, kind of like the fairy tale of a man in a red suit who lives in the North Pole and flies around the world hopping down chimneys and all that. Neither of these fairy tales is better or worse than the other, and I doubt God is more fond of one than the other, or that one or the other is more or less acceptable in His sight. Therefore, I don’t think anyone who chooses to participate in rituals which honor one fairy tale or the other should feel superior in any way to others who participate in rituals which honor the other fairy tale.
In a related topic, Jesus never saw Mary lighting Shabbat candles as the sun was going down on Friday evening either, because this custom (which is, by the way, steeped in Occult Mysticism) did not begin to be part of Jewish life until the 9th century. Despite this fact, which one can discover by doing a simple search of the Jewish Virtual Library, I have lost count of the number of Christian women I’ve met in Jerusalem over the years who have told me they light Shabbat candles on Friday evening because it makes them feel closer to Jesus and His family.
Brothers and sisters, it’s time to grow up and be done with these childish and absurd ideas, which are so widely popular among Hebrew Roots folks and Christian Zionists (and, alas, many Jewish Believers). You are not following Jesus’ example by lighting Shabbat candles, or Hanukkah candles, nor does it somehow render you “in God’s will” to light Hanukkah candles “instead” of putting Christmas lights up on your house.
The hypocrisy that the popularity of these ideas reveal within the Body of Messiah is exceeded only by the acrimony it causes within the Body of Messiah and the damage that acrimony does to our witness to an unbelieving world.
Of particular note, in this regard, is the totally unnecessary and unhelpful bad feelings that exist between Jewish and Arab Believers here in the Land of Israel over this issue. We are such a tiny community here and we should be cooperating, but there’s less cooperation than there should be and one reason is because the big Hebrew Roots organizations, mostly in America but with representation here, are so strident in their demands that “true followers” of Jesus Christ not have anything to do with Christmas and Easter.
In conclusion, brothers and sisters, one of the things the Protestant Reformation got absolutely right was the concept of Sola Scriptura which, in a nutshell, says that we should not look for guidance in spiritual matters from any other source but the Bible. This principle was taught by the Reformers primarily as a reaction against the edicts that had been issued by Popes and other officials in the Roman Catholic Church who claimed to be speaking in the name of God even when their instructions to their flocks were un-Biblical or even outright opposed to Biblical teaching. But I would humbly submit that if we shouldn’t follow unBiblical practices just because they were or are taught by the Pope, then we shouldn’t rush to accept unBiblical practices just because they were or are taught by rabbis either.
So, on that note, I want to invite everyone reading this, as I do every December, to get a hold of a One-Year Bible and read through it starting on January 1st. You can download the app at most app stores or if you’re old-fashioned like me you can get a paper copy from Amazon or any other bookstore. It also makes a great December gift for anyone you care about enough to give a gift to.
May God’s word be a gift to all of us, leading us onto the paths of truth and righteousness.