Midweek Reflection – Hanukkah (Sunset 10 December) 2020

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Where Does GOD Live?

The Temple – the Dwelling Place of the LORD

Christianity has never had an ultimate location for God – a Temple, a Wailing Wall, an ancient shrine, or a land! For the Jews, the Temple has had huge importance – it was the place of the shekinah, the presence and glory of the LORD. In about 200BC, while Judea was under Syrian rule, it was abused beyond imagination. After a long guerrilla warfare, led by the Maccabees (The Hammers), Judea was set free in 165BC. In December, the Temple was cleansed and rededicated with lamps fed by a tiny amount of consecrated oil, which lasted for 8 days until more was found. This was the miracle of “Hannukah” (The Hebrew word for “rededication” or new beginning).

The Gospel Reading for Hanukkah: John 10.22-30

“22 At that time the Festival of Hanukkah took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,

23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.

24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

“25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me;

26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.

27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.

28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.

29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.

30 The Father and I are one.”

The Jewish Festival of Hanukkah in Manchester

Each year Manchester Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting a huge 9 lamp hanukkiah (candelabra) in Albert Square. Sometimes, a fleet of cars, each with a hanukkiah on the roof will tour the Jewish areas of north Manchester. We know from the Mishnah that even in the time of Jesus, Jews would also have had lights in front of their homes during this feast to proclaim the Hanukkah miracle.

Jesus and an Astonishing Hanukkah Proclamation

Of all the places on the earth, in all the breadth of creation, God has chosen this tiny spot in an insignificant ancient city in the Judean mountains as His dwelling place….. this is the great source of pride for the Jewish people at the time of Hanukkah.

Here, on a cold December Hanukkah day, Jesus declares an astonishing truth: “The Father and I are one.” This Galilean Rabbi not only affirms that He is the Messiah, but that He is the dwelling place of God! He is the Temple of God! At the Passover Supper, when one of the disciples asks him about the Father, with great gentleness, Jesus responds: “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still don’t know me?” (John 14.9).

Hanukkah in Auschwitz

The late Rabbi Hugo Gryn who used to speak on BBC “Thought for the Day” had been a child in Auschwitz. In December 1944, Hanukkah came, and after fashioning a makeshift hanukkiah, his father melted the precious margarine ration to light a wick for the first night and used threads from his prison uniform for wicks. The wicks burned momentarily and then fizzled out. The young Hugo, outraged, protested to his father. This could have been spread on bread and eaten. How could he use the food which sustained them in the midst of such horror, just to observe Hanukkah?

Many years later Rabbi Gryn said that at that moment his father spoke words he never forgot. His father said: “My child, we know you can live three days without water. You can live three weeks without food. But you cannot live for three minutes without hope.”

Hanukkah and the Sheep

In Rabbi Gryn’s story, the very thought of festival, light and hope in Auschwitz, that hub of human cruelty, far from Temple and church, is deeply moving.

The core of this Hanukkah message is Jesus’ care for the flock. There is no need to crowd into a temple, or to shuffle into a church to take hold of God’s blessing. Jesus the Shepherd is uncontainable. In the steepest of terrain, in the most dangerous environments, in the gloomiest darkness, He is with you. He will never let you slip away; He will hold you securely in His hand; He will set you on His shoulder and bring you safe home.

As we gaze on your kingly brightness, So our faces display your likeness,

Ever changing from glory to glory,

Mirrored here may our lives tell your story, Shine on me, shine on me.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen!