Chanukkah 2023 – Turning Darkness Into Light

Chag Samach, Shabbat Shalom! Today we celebrate Channukah, known by many as the Festival of Lights. This morning Rabbi Glenn and I have the privilege of discussing this wonderful holiday that speaks to the times we are living in. This morning, Lord willing, I will discuss how the menorah symbolizes God’s perfect light in a dark world, shining through Messiah Yeshua, and how we must share His light with 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, and 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.

Briefly the story of Chanukkah is 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, while also including 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 is that the miracle of the oil most likely never happened. In 1 and 2 Maccabees, which record the history 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.

Even if a miracle of long-lasting oil never happened, the Menorah itself is very real and the Lord being associated with light is a major theme throughout God’s Word. The continuously burning light of the Menorah is a symbol of His eternal nature, that He is eternal light and the creator of light. The creation of light is found in Genesis 1, where we read that everything was Tohu va vohu, Chaotic and empty, a universe filled with absolute darkness. True physical darkness is hard to find in our modern world of artificial light. But imagine being in the darkest place you’ve ever been, and that place continues forever.

Into endless darkness we read in the Hebrew “And God said let light be, and light was.” Instantaneously there was an explosion of light, rushing out to fill and push away the darkness. There is no buildup or uncertainty, God spoke light into being and so light existed. The endless darkness of the universe is transformed into overwhelming light. This theme of darkness being transformed into light, or a war between light and darkness, begins in Genesis 1 and continues throughout all human history until the end of God’s Word.

It is a fact that darkness of an emotional and spiritual kind is allowed to exist for a time because of our sinfulness. The darkness in our lives is also Tohu va vohu, chaotic and empty. It is the emotional and spiritual chaos and emptiness that fills our lives. Chaos and confusion about if someone is alive, gender, sexuality, morality, God’s very existence. Also, there is the emptiness, the emptiness of consumption, sex, power, fame, respect, and other human beings who so often fail and hurt us while we do the same back to them. Do I need to mention all the tragedies happening every day around the world and even in our own backyard? Darkness is very real and covers the whole Earth.

Darkness is real and present in our world but so is the glorious light of the Lord. The Lord has revealed and offered His light to every one of us. This offer also fills the pages of Scripture and human history. Consider one moment of profound light driving away darkness in the life of King David. In 2 Samuel 22 we have a beautiful song of praise sung by David after the Lord saved him from Saul and all his enemies. He proclaims the Lord is his strong rock and his Savior. In verse 29 David declares, “You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.

King David was a man well acquainted with all kinds of darkness. He also knew very well the light of the Lord that filled his heart, mind, and life. It would be amazing if we could sing about and experience the light of God like King David did. But in fact, we can! Not through the Temple like David did in His day but by becoming Temples through Messiah Yeshua who is God.

As we read in the beginning of John’s Gospel:

“He (referring to Messiah Yeshua) 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. This world of darkness has now experienced a great and wonderous light. A light more wonderful than even the first light of creation. Being the sinless son of God, Messiah Yeshua 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 shine out through us.

How does the Lord’s light shine out of us? 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 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 share the light of our faith in a desperate dark world. Our faith should be the center of lives and easily visible to all.

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 for 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 just general apathy it is often ignored.

But this world needs more than Menorahs in windows. It needs the light of the Lord. The main way 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. To walk with God means to be despised by this world just as Messiah Yeshua was. But with the Lord’s strength we can boldly have our light shine for everyone to see. God’s light may be mocked or despised by many, but many more are drawn to that light.

When I think about sharing our faith with others, I think about my Mom. It may also be because tomorrow marks four years since her passing. My Mom, like all of us, was not perfect. But her life was filled with the light of the Lord, and she knew she had to share it with others. I can think of many occasions where she started sharing the Good News with friends, family, and even strangers. When she shared the Good News, she focused on Messiah Yeshua and how He had transformed her life since she had become His disciple. My Mom knew what the darkness of this life was like, but she also knew she had a light that could never be taken away. A light freely available for others to share as well.

As we celebrate Chanukkah this year, mindful of all the darkness in this world, we need to ask the Lord to fill our hearts with the light of Messiah Yeshua. If we already have then we can pray that He will reveal and enable us to do His will. I hope we will all be a sea of brilliant lights, cutting through the deep darkness of this world.

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. May the Lord soon drive away all darkness with His wonderful and perfect light.