St Alban’s Episcopal Church
Thursday, December 2, 2021
Hanukkah in Advent
Resistance, Defiance and the Miracle
Hanukkah celebrates resistance. It also celebrates a miracle. But the resistance came first, without any promise or expectation of a miracle!
During the second century BC the Greek-Syrian rulers oppressing Israel tried to force the Jews to worship their gods, and even entered and defiled the Temple. Finally, according to the Book of Maccabees, the freedom-fighter, Judah Maccabee took a group of rebels into the mountains from which they fought and won a war of freedom against a powerful enemy. That’s the story of resistance to evil. Then they entered the Temple, to rededicate it to the worship of God, but found only a small amount of oil for the Lamp of Presence. They lit it anyway, even though they knew it would take a week to prepare oil to refill it. Nevertheless, the oil lasted for a week – eight days. That’s the miracle.
But the miracle from God was dependent upon the resistance by God’s people.
The great joy in this year’s celebrations all over the world reflects the conviction that evil does not last forever. It can be defeated. Justice can prevail.
This is the incredible picture of the Hanukkah celebration in Berlin this week below a photo at the same location during Hitler’s Third Reich which was supposed to last for a “thousand years.”
But it didn’t. And Judaism survived and thrives.
Hanukkah in Siberia
Even in Russia, Judaism revived and thrives. And here is the incredible photo of a huge menorah made entirely of ice.
And this is my very favorite photo, the most moving one, depicting the defiance of Jews under Hitler. Directly across the street from this family’s home is the headquarters of the Gestapo. The family deliberately chose to put their candles in the window and light them night by night in spite of the threat. The photo survived the war. So does the testimony. A single candle can light the darkness -but only if we dare to light it in the face of evil. And it is a testimony to the truth of God, and even to the faithfulness of God, even when God does not give us the miracle we need.
The shamash is the central candle, the one what is lit first, and then held to light the others.
When we light our Advent candles, and later our Christmas trees and other candles, we need to remember that they are lights of celebration. But they are also lights of testimony to the reality of God. And they are also lights of resistance to every power that is not God.
Otherwise they are simply sentimental. We want to do better than that.
And yes, be a shamash. Light the others.