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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Festival of Lights

My brother is a man of odd interests.  In his fascinating and tumultuous personality nothing stays the same for too long.  And he has never known stoicism or apathy. Only a few things have remained constant in his passions and one of those things is an abiding interest in Jewish culture (which I have begun to share).  I began studying Hebrew on my own about a year ago, and I've been learning how much of Christianity is built on Jewish belief.  Jesus was a Jew.  :)  No surprises there, I hope.   The promises of the Tanakh are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.  However, if you're like me, you've noticed that Christmas has become highly commercialized.  Even most believers give only a cursory glance at the manger and spend most of their time at the tree.  Have we forgotten that the manger is the first step to the cross?  And the cross is our only means of salvation.  We easily forget that Christmas is the gospel.
My parents have kept Christmas small for us ever since my brothers and I were little.  They give us each one present every year, and we've given the other family members one present each.  If you do the math, it means I've received no more than four presents a year.  It's been great!  Rather than a pile of meaningless gifts to sort through, each of us has to think hard about what to get the others.  (Only one chance!)  I actually had no clue that other kids got more than that until I was in jr. high school.  And I also didn't know until recently that my parents have been ridiculed for keeping Christmas this way.  They have had other believers (!) tell them that they aren't treating their children with fairness.  That because they don't compare the price tags of our gifts, they are showing favoritism.  Here's the point, if it's not about the gifts, then it's not about the gifts.  Period.  Dot.  Is it about Jesus?  Or is it about the gifts?  We love to SAY that we know "the true meaning of Christmas."  But we don't love to act that way.  We love to talk about how horribly commercialized Christmas has become, but we don't really do anything about it.  If we really thought it was too commercialized and we really cared about that fact, wouldn't we act differently?  Wouldn't we make a point to make Jesus the point?
So this year my family has added a few things to our Christmas traditions.  The normal stuff is right on schedule.  We decorated the tree together and put up our lights.  We delivered the senior angel tree gifts in Hampton, and we still have the family get together events this coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at my grandma's house in between Christmas Eve Candlelight services and Christmas Day services at church.  But yesterday the Hanukkah season started and we've added menorah-lighting to our holiday rituals.
We have several reasons for this.  First of all, the story of Hanukkah is more than just a story.  It's part of Jewish history.  While we are not ethnically Jews, we owe much to the heritage that is Judaism.  Secondly, the Jews thought that Judah Maccabee (the hero of the Hanukkah story) was the Messiah for a while (and with good reason!)  While we know that he wasn't, we can appreciate the sentiment and knowledge of Scripture that led them to see the attributes of Messiah, even though many of them missed Him a century later.  Lastly, the miracle of Hanukkah is one in which the holiness of God and His light to the world is honored and made glorious.  As American Christians, we sometimes shy away from our history.  But Adam and I are enjoying embracing it.  Admittedly, Judaism entails an incomplete expression of Messiah.  But it's a notable one.  And for the light that it gives, we see no darkness in honoring it in memory of what eventually gave us the Savior.
In the meantime, I've enjoyed beating Adam at dreidel and can't wait to see the joy on his face when I give him his Christmas present.
Merry Christmas...and Happy Hanukkah!
Nes Gadol Haya Sham!
-emj

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