The Traditions of Advent and Hanukkah by Sue Towne
The mishpochah of Messianic Vision come from a wide variety of Christian “flavors” or doctrinal streams in the Body of Messiah. Some of us absolutely blanche at the mention of the word “tradition.” If something is a tradition, we reason, it’s got to be dead religion.
Not necessarily so. Some practices among believers in Yeshua are filled with life, and others are just so much ritual. Like everything in the Kingdom of God, it comes down to the heart of the participants.
Take the practice of Advent, for example. Some of us come from parts of the Body of Messiah where the month of December leading up to Christmas day is structured as a time of spiritual preparation for the “advent” or coming of the Lord.
This practice goes back many centuries in liturgical churches. Advent, and the parallel practice of Lent in the spring, present structured opportunities for the believer to prepare his/her heart for the profound experience of Christmas or Resurrection Day (Easter).
I have to say that as a believer who has observed these traditions in some years and not in others, I have been surprised at the difference Advent makes in the quality of my Christmas.
It’s all too easy in the pre-Christmas season for all the physical preparation that precedes the holiday to drown out any spiritual significance the holiday would otherwise have for me personally. Advent helps me to stay on track spiritually.
It helps me target Christmas as a season to focus again on the significance of some important events in the life of my Beloved—things that happened centuries ago and things that are yet to come.
Some years I have actually used an Advent devotional book to structure special prayer and scripture reading each day. Other years our family worked every day during Advent on a Jesse Tree project, where we colored a gospel symbol on the paper tree and read an appropriate scripture.
We have tried using the traditional four candles for the four Sundays of Advent. This has not usually work well for us, and I don’t know why.
But two things have been consistently helpful in preparing for Christmas. One is to ask the Lord what particular thing He would like me to do for Advent. And the other is to observe the Feast of Hanukkah, which this year begins at sundown on December 19 and runs for eight nights.
Hanukkah commemorates a great miracle that occurred in the Temple in Jerusalem, less than 200 years before the birth of Yeshua. You can research the story on the Internet quite easily, but the gist of it is that a small quantity of special oil used to light the Temple lamps lasted eight days instead of one day.
What does Hanukkah have to do with Advent? Hanukkah is the Festival of Light. If you read my column a few weeks ago about the birth of Yeshua, you will recall that an argument can be made that Yeshua was conceived during Hanukkah. (Obviously, Yeshua was NOT born on the day we call Christmas).
We know from the gospel of John that Yeshua went to Jerusalem during Hanukkah, which is referred to there as the Feast of Dedication.
To observe this feast as a non-Jewish believer in the Jewish Messiah, I simply take a few minutes each night of Hanukkah to light the appropriate candles on a menorah, and I read a scripture about light.
For example, Yeshua said He was the light of the world. He also said that when He was no longer here we would be the light of the world.
Hanukkah is a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas, especially this year. You can search the Internet or your local library on ideas about how to celebrate Hanukkah or Advent at home.
But here’s a simple idea. This is how we began to celebrate the Feast of Lights years ago in our home, when my teenager was just a toddler.
I took a shoebox and covered it with some blue construction paper. Then I cut out some Jewish stars from plain white paper and glued them on the box.
Next I got out our birthday candleholders—you know, the ones you use on the cake each year. I stuck nine of them in a row, spacing them out across the top of the decorated shoebox.
Then each night of Hanukkah, I put fresh birthday candles in the candleholders as necessary. My son and I first lit the very center candle, called the Servant candle. Then using the Servant candle, we would light the number of candles representing that night in the festival. On the last night all nine candles (including the Servant) would be lit.
Each night after we lit the candles, we would read a scripture, usually one I had already picked out in advance. As I said earlier, I like to read scripture about light during Hanukkah. But you could also read scripture about miracles, or oil, or about the Second Advent (Second Coming) of the Messiah.
Then I would give my son a small present—like a Matchbox car or a chocolate coin wrapped in gold foil. In later years we would also bring out our small collection of tops and declare a “top war” to be fought on the dining room table.
All of this made the Hanukkah candle-lighting something my son really looked forward to each night.
In recent years I replaced the old shoebox with a modern-looking stainless-steel menorah that I fill with colorful hand-dipped candles from Israel. My son no longer prizes Matchbox cars, though he still declares “top wars.”
But the heart of Hanukkah for me remains lighting the candles and taking just a few minutes to read the scriptures. I don’t do any of the other traditional Jewish things, like frying latkes (potato pancakes) or singing “The Dreidel Song.” What I described to you has become my tradition, and it fuels my soul for Christmas.
It wouldn’t be Christmas for me without Hanukkah! Try it—you’ll like it.