Chag Samach, Shabbat Shalom! Tonight, as we know begins the holiday of Channukah, but today is special for another reason. It is the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. I think it is fitting that this festival of lights lines up with the day of greatest darkness. This morning, Lord willing I will be sharing how the menorah is a reminder of God’s perfect light, how His light shines in us through Messiah Yeshua, and that we need to shine His light before others.
Now I referred to Channukah as the “festival of lights”, but this is not what the name Channukah means in English. The word means Dedication, not Light, in the New Testament it is referred to as the Feast of Dedication”. So why is this festival of Dedication also known as a festival of lights? Well during the eight nights of Channukah we use a special Menorah or Lamp which is known as a Channukiah in modern Hebrew. Unlike the Menorah with six-branches and seven lights that was found in the Tent of Meeting and later in the Temple, the Channukiah has eight branches, with eight lights of the same height and one that is raised higher. The reason why we have and use a Channukiah is found in the story of Channukah.
The usual story of Chanukah you hear is the one I was taught in Hebrew school. How the wicked king and general, Antiochus Epiphanies, went into Israel and forced our people to give up faith in the Lord to worship Greek gods, and also himself. In response to the murder and paganism, Judah Maccabee, his brothers, and a small remnant of people who were still loyal to the Lord began a war against Antiochus. With Adonai’s help they drove him from the land of Israel and rededicated the Temple to the Lord. But there was one major problem; there was only enough oil to last one day to relight the Menorah that burned eternally in the Temple.
Even though the oil should have lasted for just a day, a miracle occurred and it lasted eight days until more oil could be produced. So, the holiday of Chanukah is celebrated as the festival of lights and we commemorate this holiday with our Menorahs and gift giving.
The problem with this story I learned in Hebrew School, and that you also may have heard, is that the miracle of the oil most likely never happened. In 1 and 2 Maccabees, which record the story of Chanukah, there is no mention of this miracle; it was most likely invented later by the Rabbis who then recorded it in the Talmud.
I don’t think we need to trash our menorahs though over a story of oil not being real. Because there was a menorah in the Temple and in Leviticus 24 we are told that the Menorah was to be kept burning continuously, a practice the historian Josephus tells us still occurred during the time of Yeshua.
Why did Adonai command us to keep a menorah burning? Because the continuously burning light of the Menorah is a symbol of His eternal nature and power, He alone is the source and creator of light. We read in Genesis 1 that everything was Tohu va vohu, Chaotic and empty, with absolute darkness. Most of us have never really experienced absolute darkness. Where we live some light always seems to peek into wherever we go. But this is a sort of darkness where you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. Imagine being in the darkest place you’ve ever been a place that continues forever.
It is into this deep darkness that the Lord speaks and acts. Literally in the Hebrew it reads, “And God said let light be, and light was.” Instantaneously there is an explosion of light, rushing out to fill and push away the darkness. There is no buildup or hesitation. God spoke light into being and so light existed. Imagine being at that moment of creation floating in the emptiness of space turning away from the brilliant light the Lord had created.
Yet all physical light eventually wanes and goes out. From our lightbulbs to our menorahs they all eventually end. Even the Sun cannot shine forever. We know a day will come where it will be replaced in the New Heavens and Earth. But the source of light, Adonai, does not get tired, His light never stops shining, and He has made His light known through our eternal Messiah, Messiah Yeshua.
As we read in the beginning of John’s Gospel:
“He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Messiah Yeshua is the light of the world. As Scripture declares He is the True Light who gives light to everyone. Being the sinless son of God He is a light that can never go out or be hidden. He radiates through a world covered in deep darkness bringing light to all of us who are lost. By becoming loyal to Him we are joined to His light and He removes the darkness of sin from our hearts. Through His sacrifice we can stand before the brilliant light of God and not be consumed.
I love how Rabbi Paul explains this in 2 Corinthians 4,” For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Messiah.” By believing in and becoming loyal to Messiah Yeshua we not only experience the light of God’s glory but have that light live within us and have it shine out through us. Into the endless spiritual darkness of our hearts the Lord comes in and makes us His temple filled with His light.
All of life can be summarized as one very important choice. To try and live our lives in God’s light or to live in darkness.1 John 1:5-10 summarizes the message Yeshua brought with Him and challenges us to choose to walk by and be filled with God’s light through Messiah Yeshua:
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”
All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of Adonai. None of us can bear on our own to withstand just one of God’s created lights, the Sun. Get to close or stand outside too long and we will die. In the same way if we were to stand right now before the presence of the source of all light and life on our own without the redemption found in Messiah Yeshua, we would be totally consumed and destroyed. We must be honest with ourselves, Believers and Unbelievers, and admit that we need to be cleansed by Messiah Yeshua so that we can share in His glorious light. This may mean we are dedicated for the first time or are rededicated into His service when we miss His standard.
So if we have been joined to Messiah Yeshua, and have been filled with the Lord’s light what are we to do with it? Messiah Yeshua gives us the answer in Matthew 5:14-16:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
We are commanded to let our light shine out for others. We are called to push against the darkness of this world by letting God’s light shine through our lives. In this way we are like the menorahs of old. We are to represent the light of God and His nature with our lives. To demonstrate the fruits of the spirit and not the dark habits of this world. But unlike other menorahs if we are truly filled with God’s light it will never be extinguished. We will walk with His light through the darkness of this world until He calls us to Him.
The main way I believe we shine Adonai’s light is by sharing the Good News of Messiah Yeshua. To boldly declare He is the light of this world and the only source of eternal life. When we share our faith and show kindness to others, we shine with the light of the Lord. It may be mocked or despised by many, but many more are drawn to that light.
So, our faith, our light, cannot be hidden under a bowl, but set out for everyone to see. We need to place it like our Menorahs in our windows as a sign to a world covered in darkness. You know many people are afraid now to place their menorahs in the window. With the rise of Anti-Semitism and a lack of care for the Lord it is a practice that often gets ignored. But to walk with God means to be despised by this world just as Messiah Yeshua was. With the Lord’s strength we can boldly have our light shine for everyone to see.
When I think about sharing our faith with a lost and dying world, I think about my Mom. As most of you know she went on to glory last week. Like us all she was not a perfect person, but she also was not ashamed of the Gospel. Whether at work or just in public she was willing to share the Good News to people who desperately needed it. Even at her funeral service we made sure to spend time discussing her faith, sharing the Good News with many people who probably had never heard it before. I will confess that I am not always as bold as she was, but the more darkness I see and experience, the more convinced I am we must not hide under bowls.
The teaching of the Lord is clear, we must be filled with Adonai’s light through Messiah Yeshua. We must then let that light shine before others, that they may see what we do to the glory of our heavenly father. As we read in God’s word in Philippians 2 this means we need to do all things without arguing or complaining. We all need to live blameless lives even though this world is broken and twisted, shining as lights in the world. It is only through prayer and the Lord’s power that this can be done.
As we experience a day of great darkness with a day of great light, let’s take the time to think about how well we are being lamps. We need to ask the Lord to give us boldness and to faithfully step into the work He has called us to. Let us all be a sea of brilliant lights cutting through the deep darkness of this world.
May the Lord soon cause a new light to shine on Zion and may be worthy to delight in its splendor! May each of us radiate God’s light and be welcomed as His good and faithful servants. May all those who are walking in darkness see His great light and have it shine on them.