A belated Happy Hanukkah! For the past eight days Jews throughout the world have been lighting a candle each night on their menorahs in commemoration of the days' worth of oil that lasted over a week, lighting up the Temple menorah in Jerusalem in 167 BC. Though Hanukkah is not on our Liturgical calendar we should nonetheless recall it, as Israel's history is also part of Christian History. In fact you really can't understand Christianity apart from the history of Israel and the Jewish people.
Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the few over the many; the powerless over the powerful, hope over despair and hence light over darkness. During this historical period Syrian Greeks who wanted to impose on the "backward" Jews a new, more progressive, enlightened culture dominated Israel. This would require the destruction of all things Jewish. The Greeks understand that the only way to accomplish this was to stop the study of the Torah and worship in the temple. Study of the Torah became illegal and forced faithful Jews to study Torah in secret.
Every would-be tyrant from that time on knows that to control people they need to control the education of children. There is a big lesson here for us as we watch the almost complete monopolization of our children's education by a government controlled school system that includes the federalization of all curriculums which often include moral values antithetical to biblical teaching. Are we willing like the Maccabees', to fight for the right to educate our children with our values especially when those values conflict with the official values of the state?
During this long struggle for freedom lead by the Maccabee brothers, the oppressors were not just the Syrian Greeks but also many fellow Jews who had been Hellenized (acculturated into Greek ways). In many ways this was also a civil war as many of the Jews sold out their values for the values of the non-believers and turned on their neighbors. Again our age shares many similarities with the time of the Maccabees as Catholics fight Catholics over traditional values. For the Maccabees it came down to refusing to sacrifice a pig or eat pork. They could have saved their lives had they done so. Even many of their friends and family thought they were being ridiculous to uphold these practices. Today many Catholics think we too are being ridiculous to refuse to offer contraception in our Church health insurance coverage. For the Maccabees was a little bacon, that everyone was eating anyway so important to die for? For us, is a little pill that most Catholics take today so big a deal that we are risking legal sanctions?
The miracle of Hanukkah and the history of the period are found in the Books of the Maccabees in the Catholic version of the Old Testament. Here a small group of Jews faithful to the Torah revolt and manage to take back the Temple and rededicate it. When they searched for oil to light the menorah all they could find was enough consecrated oil for one day. Yet the oil lasted for eight days. The miracle of Hanukkah reminded the Jews that God's hand was in everything. The natural laws that keep the world moving are no less miraculous but they become routine and seem like nothing out of the ordinary. The story of Hanukkah takes place early in the battle (it would last for another 25yrs) and it gave the Jews pause to consider that God's hand was very much present in the struggle. So often what we consider "miraculous" is just God working according to another set of rules that we have not grasped. Sometimes we just need to take a pause to be able to see the miracles in our lives. And when we are tempted to despair we can recall the miracle of Hanukkah and the victory of the Maccabees. When the odds seem against us and we are outnumbered we can remember that all God needs is a small remnant of faithful believers so he can use our difficulties to bear witness to our enemies and those who try to thwart the plan of God. Hanukkah reminds us that when we don't have enough to make it through it is God who will take care of us.
Hope is faith with a track record. The Bible gives us a long track record of God's care for his people. We should be confident then in our hope that God will not abandon us now or ever.
Fr. John B.