Skip to content

Hanukkah and a New Year’s resolution

January 2, 2017

Mary, Mother of God                                                            1st January 2017        

Numbers 6:22-27                    Galatians 4:4-7                        Luke 2:16-21

Today is the eighth day of the Octave of Christmas – Christmas is such a fantastic event in the Church’s year that we celebrate Christmas Day and then for the next eight days up until today, a week later after Christmas Day. It is a solemnity every single day, the same prayers are said, the same glorious Mass as we had on Christmas Day, repeated for eight days.

I mention this because eight days is a significant thing for the Jews as well. I don’t know whether you know, but this year something special happened with the Jewish and Christian calendars: every year, round about this time of year, Jews celebrate the Feast of Hanukkah. It’s the remembrance of something that happened 200 years before Jesus was born. The Temple in Jerusalem had been taken over by invading Syrio-Greeks (the Seleucid Empire). They deliberately sacrificed pigs in the Temple. There was outrage; there was an uprising. The Jews recaptured the Temple. This story is told in the Bible in the Book of Maccabees.

Why do I mention it? Well the Jewish Festival of Hanukkah, that lasts eight days (the same as us Christians, that Solemnity, that Octave). Hanukkah varies in time each year, between the end of November and the end of December. This year, by coincidence – and it happens very rarely, the Jews have been celebrating Hanukkah, from Christmas Day to this day, the eight days of Hanukkah.

And it is an interesting Feast for the Jewish People. They remember what happened when they needed to purify the Temple after it had been desecrated by pagans – and the way they did that was to burn holy oil. But when they recaptured the Temple they could only find one day’s worth of oil. They lit the lamp: it should have gone out after a day. Miraculously, it kept burning for eight days. That is why they have special candlesticks to hold eight candles, called ‘menorah’ – you see Jews put these up in their windows; you will see down at Canon Hill Park there is a huge menorah with eight candles representing those eight days.

This special period of celebration for eight days is something we in the Christian faith have inherited from our Jewish cousins. Remember, of course, Jesus was a Jew. He would have remembered Hanukkah.

But the Feast of Hanukkah is very interesting for us because it shows that the Christian Church and the Jewish faith – obviously we spring from them – they ran along in parallel for a couple of hundred years (and this it why the period after Christ’s birth can be called the Common Era, ‘CE’). After Jesus was crucified things became increasingly tense between the Jews and Christians, but here is the interesting thing… the Jews lost their records of the history of the Maccabees. It was the Christians who still had original copies of the Books of Maccabees. [At the Reformation the Books of Maccabees were dropped by the reformed churches; but a Catholic Bible still has the two Books of Maccabees in it.] The Feast of Hanukkah is not found in the Tanakh, (what we might call the Old Testament) – it was established about 570 years after the actual events by the Rabbinic leaders (who had emerged amongst the Jews after the destruction of The Temple in 70AD). The Rabbis were able to consult the Christian record of events, those two Books of Maccabees, and using them they were able to formally established their Feast of Hanukkah in their writings, confirming what had, up to that time, been an unwritten Jewish practice and tradition. Isn’t that amazing?

Hanukkah is an interesting Festival for the Jews precisely because it does not have Biblical origins, and therefore the usual rules do not apply, like the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, when they have really got to be strict about observing the rules. Those rules do not apply at this time of year, so the Jews are able to celebrate in public, they put the candles on show and they really enjoy themselves. That is our joint heritage with the Jews.

And we see in today’s readings, in today’s Feast of Mary, Mother of God, how Mary and Joseph were just the same as today’s observant Jews, obeying God and following Jewish tradition.

Mary and Joseph, a young couple, both devoutly religious, planning to get married; then she tells him that she is pregnant, and he knows that he is definitely not the father. And Mary says she was told by an angel, before she was even pregnant, that it will be a miracle pregnancy! If you were Joseph, would you believe that? And Mary also tells him that her elderly cousin Elizabeth is also six months pregnant      . And if you were Joseph, would you believe that?

Joseph was thinking about quietly ending their relationship when, after she was pregnant, he too sees an angel in a dream. He too is told to name the child Jesus.

It is one of the things that struck me over the readings leading up to Christmas and through Christmas, angels telling both Mary and Joseph INDEPENDENTLY things that they must do this… , ‘name the baby this; go in to exile’. All those sort of things.

What is it that made Joseph change his mind about leaving Mary quietly?

Well, Joseph is a man of faith; he had been given the gift of discernment through the Holy Spirit; AND he weighed up the evidence – he looked at what was going on around him, and he decides to do as he is told by the angels. And he takes Mary as his wife.

At the end of today’s Gospel there you will see Mary and Joseph are AGAIN being obedient:

‘On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.’

Why was Jesus’ name so important in the messages from the angel? Well, we know the name ‘Jesus’ means ‘Salvation; Emmanuel, ‘God is with us’. Yes, but it is to fulfill a prophecy, a prophecy made by Isaiah nearly 800 years before the child is born . Why does God have to fulfill a prophecy? It is:

  • in order to convince people like us that God is real;
  • it is also done to show us that indeed God does have a plan for the world and its people – that plan is working its way out, its way through;
  • and it is done to convince people like us, people like Joseph and people like Mary, to convince us that God does actually does get involved in what goes on in the world


So three question that I ask myself:

Do I believe in God?


Do I believe in Jesus Christ, born 2,017 years ago?


Will I, like Mary and Joseph, do as I’m told by God and his messengers?

YES, but NO… but YES, but NO….

My New Year’s resolution: To be like Mary and Joseph, I will try not to be a ‘pretend Christian’. I will do as I’m told by God.


From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: