Last week we looked at the historical background of the Jewish observance of Hanukkah, an extra-Biblical holiday with, as we’ll see today, a most interesting connection with the Christian festival of Christmas.
Is the miracle of the holy oil burning for eight days truth or fiction? As one reader suggested, it might depend upon whether you believe in the apocryphal book Maccabees. Well … my present beliefs are not such that I take those writings as inspired Scripture, but I’m not going to rule out the possibility of God working such a miracle.
Some sources say there was no miracle, that the celebration became eight days because the original rededication of the Temple was a delayed (early winter rather than late summer) celebration of the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles along with the “Eighth Day of the Assemblies.” But either way, it’s curious that not only is the holiday still celebrated today, but it merited a mention in the Gospel of John.
Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. … (John 10:22-23)
What’s this all about? I noticed while looking for this Scripture that John often used the feast times as time markers for different parts of his account: “it was Passover … the Feast of Tabernacles …” etc. But here, he adds all this detail, as if to leave some unspoken clue. Not just “it was the Feast of Dedication,” but “and it was winter.” And the description of Yeshua (I like calling Him by the proper Hebrew form of His name) walking through Solomon’s porch in the Temple, during this holiday, which centers around speculation of a miracle.
Well … Christmas is rife with legend and speculation, as well. The story of an actual historic figure, Nicholas, a bishop renowned for his good works, grew into the myth of “Santa Claus.” Even the idea that the Messiah’s birth actually occurred on December 25 is rooted in myth and speculation. Scholars generally agree that Yeshua’s birth was likely sometime during the fall feasts, likely the Feast of Tabernacles. Our first clue to rule out December is the fact that Luke tells us the shepherds were in the fields with their flocks, and the weather in that part of the Middle East is too inclement during December for that. Our second clue is the fact that until after Constantine, when the Roman Catholic Church was established and the Jewish expressions of faith done away with, there was no … Christmas. The “Christ-mass” was fixed on December 25 as a replacement for a pagan midwinter celebration that roots at least back to Egyptian times, with the “rebirth” of the god Osiris.
In addition, there really is no Biblical command to celebrate the Birth of the Messiah—in fact, the Biblical records of birthday celebrations in general are limited to those in which someone died (Pharaoh, in Genesis, executing his traitorous baker, and Herod, granting the head of John the Baptist to Salome). But if we insist on fixing the date of Yeshua’s birth, then in keeping with the theme of Messianic events corresponding to Old Covenant feasts, it would be reasonable to assume that His birth did indeed take place sometime during the Feast of Tabernacles, which scholars agree is symbolic or a foreshadowing of when God will “tabernacle” or dwell with His people. Other Messianic events: Yeshua was crucified on Passover, rose again on the Feast of Fruits—as the first of those to enjoy total victory over death—and the Holy Spirit was given on Pentecost, another feast day celebrating—surprise!—the early harvest. Scholars also suggest that He will return during the Feast of Trumpets (remember how the trumpet sounding is linked to the Second Coming?), and so it seems to make sense that His Incarnation—when God came down to tabernacle in a human body for our redemption—could have taken place during the Feast of Tabernacles.
So, in thinking through all that, an interesting thought occurred to me. If Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles—Septemberish—then that would put His conception right around the time of … Hanukkah. The Feast of Dedication … or Festival of Lights. Perhaps, the Kindling of the One called Light of the World, Himself?
“And it was the Feast of Dedication … and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple …”
Hmm … mere coincidence, or truly a clue, since the term “temple” often refers to the human body as God’s dwelling place?
But it’s all speculation, of course.