By GARY ALLEYDecember 2012
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isa 9:2)
For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the darkest time of the year. The sun has slowly been losing altitude since its summer zenith. The days are growing shorter and the nights longer.
In the ancient world, humanity’s life revolved around the rising and the setting of the sun. And this darkest time of the year was dreaded. Therefore, fire gave light—candles, torches, lamps, and the like were used to pierce the long night. Just as we enjoy Christmas lights during this time of the year, so too, many civilizations decorated their winter darkness with illumination.
During this dark month in 164 BC, a light burst forth upon this land. Judah Maccabee and his forces successfully reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem from their Greek overlords. The Temple and its altar had been desecrated three years prior by the Greeks, but on the 25th day of the month of Kislev (approximately Dec 15, 164 BC), the purified Temple was rededicated and the daily sacrifice restarted.
This celebration lasted for eight days and was called “dedication/rededication” or Hanukkah. In fact, our earliest literary source for the name of this Jewish festival as “rededication” is found in the New Testament (John 10:22). Josephus, a Jewish historian writing just after the time of Jesus, says this celebration was also called “lights” and supposes that it was called that because liberty beyond the people’s hopes appeared to them (Ant XII, 7.7).
It’s easy to see light as a symbol of freedom when contrasted with prison as a place of darkness. When God’s Son appeared on earth, the gospel writers portrayed him as a great light and a great hope (Mt 4:15-16; Lk 2:29-32; Jn 1:4-9). Jesus’ coming to earth as light brought life for all peoples.
During this time of physical darkness, let us be reminded of the spiritual darkness that still inundates our world. We have been called to bring light into that darkness and lead people to liberty. Every time we obey God in our daily life the light spreads and more are able to see the path. May this be a season of light, where our deeds shine brighter than our words.
…the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Lk 1:78-79)