I’m sitting at my desk in Jerusalem writing this blog post a few hours before sunset on Sunday, 22 December (Gregorian calendar) and that means that shortly my sons will come home from school and will happily join with me and my wife as we partake in the manmade tradition of lighting candles on a Menorah, eating special jelly-filled pastries called suvganiot (this word does NOT appear in the Bible) and potato pancakes called “latkes” (also not in the Bible). When everyone has had enough to eat, we will play a game using an object called a “dreidel” (you guessed it, not in the Bible) and listening to traditional Hanukkah songs, most of which were written in the past 200 years or so and which contain hardly any references whatsoever to anything written in the Bible.
If Jesus walked into my living room while all this was going on, He would have no idea why there were candles on the menorah (there were never any candles on the Menorah being used in the Second Temple) nor would He know what the dreidel was. He would never have heard any of the songs coming from my computer nor would he recognize the suvgoniot or potato latkes.
The reason I mention this is because one of the most oft-repeated arguments against celebrations of Christmas (and variations of this argument get made against pretty much everything the Gentile Protestant Church does, and doesn’t do, year round) is that Jesus and His Apostles (including Paul) were all Torah-Observant Jews who wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on (but would nonetheless be deeply offended) if they were to visit a church in December. They wouldn’t know what was meant by someone wishing them “Merry Christmas” or what on earth that decorated tree in the lobby was all about, or why there were gingerbread cookies being baked in the kitchen, or all the other man-made, non-Biblical traditions that Protestant Christians engage in at this time of year.
This criticism nearly always includes a reminder of John 10:22-23, which says “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon”
The argument goes that since Jesus celebrated the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) and NOT Christmas, than we who follow Him should do the same.
I think that argument is deeply flawed.
As that passage in John’s Gospel teaches us, our Lord and Saviour did indeed participate in the Feast of Dedication. That is not in dispute. What I DO dispute is the conclusion that so many draw from this that Hanukkah is from God and therefore the proper holiday to celebrate at this time of year and that Christmas is wicked, pagan, unacceptable in His sight, etc.
Brothers and sisters, please hear me.
As I said before, Jesus wouldn’t recognize the traditional foods, music, dreidel or the way the Menorah was being used if He were to walk into my living room in a few hours while me and my family were enjoying them. In the same way (and for the same obvious reasons) if He came back in a few days to enjoy Christmas with us, they wouldn’t understand what the decorated tree we have in our living room is for, they would never before have tasted the gingerbread cookies or egg nog we offered them, and they would never have heard the Bing Crosby album which will be coming from my computer at that time.
However, at both the Hanukkah celebrations we’ll be having in a few hours and the Christmas celebrations we’ll be having in a few days, there are some things He would see and recognize. I also believe that He’d wholeheartedly approve of it.
He would see a loving mother and father taking the man-made traditions, elements and nomenclature from these two equally artificial and un-Biblical holidays and redeeming them by using them to point these children to their Messiah and His Father in Heaven.
Jesus would see the same thing, BTW, if He visited my house on Passover, Succot, Easter, Thanksgiving, Superbowl Sunday, Israeli Independence Day, Veterans Day, Victory Day, etc.
Jesus absolutely would recognize this process because that’s PRECISELY what He was doing in John 10:22-23. If we want to follow Jesus’ example (and I hope we do) than the point is not that He was participating in Hanukkah and not Christmas, but that He was using the occasion to build His Father’s Kingdom. He was taking something that wasn’t necessarily His idea and He was redeeming it by using it for his purposes and just as importantly, He was building people up, not tearing them down. Instead of looking at what was WRONG with what was going on, He was looking for what was RIGHT with what was going on so He could use it for the Kingdom.
Brothers and sisters, that’s what you and I should be doing on the 25th of December (and on every single one of the other 364 days out of the year) because the 25th of December will come every year whether we like it or not, just like Hanukkah will (the dates when it occurs change every year, but they always come). What we should NOT be doing, is criticizing others for the way they have found to redeem the times and the seasons. That’s a really cheap and usually unhelpful substitute for doing something productive ourselves.
So Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Gregorian New Year and may you have a blessed time with whatever else is out there that you’re trying to redeem this week.