As the calendar dictates this year, the afterglow of Thanksgiving is still burning bright as many turn their attention to religious observances that are both different and akin. This year, the Jewish community begins Hanukkah and the Christian community begins Advent, on the same date, Nov. 28, 2021.
Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following a Jewish victory over the Assyrians, led by the Maccabees in 165 BCE. The Assyrians had been particularly ruthless in disrespecting the Jewish people and their faith, desecrating the Temple by placing an idol on the altar and smearing the altar with the blood of swine.
Light amid darkness
After the Jewish victory, a redemption ritual of burning oil in the Temple’s menorah was planned. But there was only a day’s worth of purified oil to be found. Once lit, a miracle occurred, as the day's worth of oil lasted eight days, the time needed for the purification of new oil.
For those who witnessed the miracle, it was symbolic of the ways in which the Macabee family’s resilience, drive, faith, and determination led to defeating one of the mightiest armies of the time and reclaiming their sacred temple in Jerusalem.
Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday. Unlike Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover, there is not a prescribed fast or feast associated with the observance, and it is not recorded in the Torah.
And yet in our country it is as well-known as the major Jewish holidays. And as it proclaims light in darkness and hope in despair, it is a much-needed reminder to us all of resilience in our difficult world.
Advent lasts through Christmas Eve
Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day and lasts through Christmas Eve on December 24. While many Christian denominations celebrate Advent as both a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus and the second coming of Christ, Advent is not prescribed in Christian scripture.
Though observed since the fourth century CE, it is not as significant a holy season as is Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost. But, like Hanukkah, the Advent themes of light in the darkness, hope in despair, and the discipline of hopeful waiting are as important in our current climate as ever.
A time of hopeful waiting
Both Hanukkah and Advent involve hopeful waiting. It is not one of our strong suits. We are far more accustomed to instant gratification than purposeful waiting.
We can be frustrated by waiting for a traffic light to change, a search engine to produce its findings, a doctor’s office to call us back for an appointment, or a package to arrive on our doorstep.
The pandemic has helped us realize that we do not control time and it seems the better part of wisdom and valor, that we intentionally practice the art of waiting.
Hanukkah and Advent give us that opportunity. We are encouraged to reflect patiently on the meaning of these respective celebrations in ways that inform our lives now even as we wait on the tiptoes of expectation.
'Light One Candle'
And for both Hanukkah and Advent, that expectant waiting involves action on our part.
For the Jewish community, it involves Tikun Olam, or repair of a broken world. A popular Hanukkah song was written by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary, in 1983. In it he encourages activism to make the world a better place. Titled, “Light One Candle,” Yarrow tells that he wrote the song as a call for peace and reconciliation.
For the Christian community, the action in waiting for Christ’s return is to be as Christ-like as possible to others. Presbyterian minister and author, Frederick Buechner, writes, “To wait for Christ to come in his fullness is not just a passive thing, a pious, prayerful, churchly thing. On the contrary, to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is above all else to act in Christ's stead as fully as we know how.”
Embracing the light
Both Hanukkah and Advent involve light.
Over the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, Jewish people light a menorah candle each day, praying beautiful prayers of faith, so that at the end of the celebration the brightness is undeniable.
Christians light an Advent wreath candle each of the four Sundays of Advent and, on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day, light a central Christ candle. Each of the four candles represent themes from scripture like hope, joy, love, and peace, while the Christ Candle represents Jesus coming as the light of the world.
Like many religions and spiritualities, these two faith traditions recognize the power of light overcoming darkness, celebrating hope in the midst of despair.
As Yarrow writes to Jews and non-Jews alike, “Don’t let the light go out, let it shine through our love and our tears. Light one candle for all we believe in, let anger not tear us apart! Light one candle to bind us together, with peace as the song in our heart.”
As we enter these religious holy days in this particular year when we are challenged by so many troubling concerns, I pray we all will promote light, hope, and peace in healing our broken world.
The Rev. Candace McKibben is an ordained minister and pastor of Tallahassee Fellowship.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Light and hope shine with Hanukkah Advent celebrations