Why I Celebrate Hanukkah

This was originally published last year on the Grace Church Pastor's Blog.  Thought it would be worthwhile re-posting in full.  Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

Hanukkah begins this year on December 1st, at sundown. Be honest. When I say “Hanukkah,” the first thing you think of is the Adam Sandler song, talking about “eight crazy nights.” If you are a little more connected to Jewish culture, you may also think about a dreidel or potato latkes (pancakes). While it’s commonly called the “Festival of Lights,” a better translation is “Dedication.” Being Jewish (circumcised at 8 days, Bar Mitzvah at age 13) and a Christ-follower (for over 15 years), I’d like to give a brief explanation of this holiday, and why it’s a meaningful opportunity to help me worship the Lord.

Here’s the story of Hanukkah: In the 2nd century BC, Antiochus Epiphanes gained control over parts of the Middle East, including Judea (Israel). He erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem, and sacrificed pigs there, which are unclean to Jews. The Maccabee family led a revolt, finally liberating Jerusalem and the Temple in 165 BC. Before God could be properly worshiped in the Temple, it had to be cleaned and dedicated. The menorah (lamp) had to burn continuously for 8 days for the purification process. Despite there only being enough olive oil for one day, the oil miraculously lasted for 8 days and nights. That is why Hanukkah is celebrated for 8 nights.

Most people consider this miracle to be the end in itself, and I think the bigger meaning is missed. The point isn’t just that God did a miracle, but that the miracle was the means to allow Him to be properly worshiped. The Temple needed to be purified in order for Yahweh to be worshiped, but it couldn’t be purified unless He worked a miracle. God worked a miracle so that His people could be near Him in worship.

Let us not miss that meaning, as we celebrate the Advent of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world (John 8:12). I don’t think we need merely to reflect on the birth of Jesus, but we need to consider why the Father sent His Son. God performed a miracle (the Incarnation) not as an end to itself, but as a means to allow us to be near Him in worship (through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice for our sins). Jesus did not come only to be marveled at as a baby, but to pour out His life and blood, to open the way for a new covenant with Him.


  1. Or, for a less sanitized version of the Chanukkah story, check out David Brooks' recent article in the New York Times.

    As someone who truly appreciates a good seder with all of my family together at the table, I firmly believe that:

    a) Channukkah is about as meaningful as Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick's Day, and
    b) The true meaning of Chanukkah really is just to make sure that Jewish kids don't get so jealous of the goyim's Xmas presents that they become more likely to jump ship.

    That's all, folks.

  2. Thank you for this post. As a Christian, I really appreciate your insight and the parallels you brought and it makes me want to learn more.