With Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, God’s presence seemed to cease. 400 years passed, during which time, like the 400 years the Israelites had spent in Egypt, God was silent. Where was he? Had he abandoned them? God’s people waited for their Messiah, and for the Elijah-like prophet Malachi had said would prepare the way for him (Malachi 3:1, 4:5).
They kept the light of faith burning.
And then the unthinkable happened: In 167 B.C. the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes IV arrived.* Foreshadowing the Antichrist, Epiphanes (nicknamed Epimames, “the Mad One”) murdered 40,000 Jews and sold another 40,000 into slavery, then set up a statue of Zeus in their Temple and began sacrificing pigs to it.
God’s people could take no more.
The heroic Maccabees rose up and, against impossible odds, overthrew the unstoppable tyrant. They cleansed the Temple of abominations and relit the sacred menorah, but they only had enough oil for one night. Yet miraculously, the Torah says, the candles stayed lit for eight days—until new oil could be brought.
Hanukkah commemorates those eight days with a nine-candled menorah, a light for each day, and one for their Source. But God’s presence had yet to be fully felt; the Source of those lights, of all light, had yet to come and dwell among them.
Another 200 years passed before the prophecies were fulfilled, before, as John 10:22-30 tells us, Jesus, the Messiah, entered the Temple on a winter’s day during the Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah.
Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. Whether we do or not, let us honor the light of faith it commemorates. And above all, let us honor its Source, the Light of the World who came to dwell among us.
“For the people who walk in darkness will see a great light; and upon those who live in a dark land, that light will shine.” ~Isaiah 9:2