Subject: Jesus Christ, Christmas & Hanukkah: The Light of the World
John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but has the light of life.”
Although Hanukkah and Christmas don’t have any direct relationship to each other, they do have some things in common: they both occur about the same time each year, they both involve exchanging gifts, and they both celebrate their freedom from captivity with lights.
Hanukkah’s celebration with lights first began with the lighting of the oil lamp for the temple rededication. After they defeated the Syrians in 164 BC, the temple priests miraculously kept an oil lamp burning for eight days with only one day’s worth of oil. This lighting of the lamp in the temple then became a yearly lighting of lamps in Jewish homes for eight days, and Hanukkah became known as the ‘Festival of Lights.’
In his book ‘Jewish Antiquities XII’, historian Flavius Josephus records how this celebration of freedom from the Syrians became known as the ‘Festival of Lights’: “Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and he honored God… they were so very glad when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. From that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that was the name given to that festival.”
Christmas aligns perfectly with this ‘Festival of Lights’ when we examine the words and works of Jesus Christ during that season of Hanukkah in 32 AD. In John 10:22-24, it says that the Jews surrounded Jesus as He was walking in the temple during Hanukkah to try and force out of Him an answer to this question: “How long do You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly” (verse 24).
Now why would the Jews think Jesus was keeping them in suspense? He answered in John 10:25 – it is because they refused to believe in Him despite the facts of the words He said and the works He performed: “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.”
What works did Jesus Christ perform that revealed Him as Messiah who fulfills the ‘Festival of Lights’, that the Jews refused to believe? We’ll examine two of them, beginning with the famous account of the woman caught in adultery and then the blind man who receives his sight.
Picture in your mind the scene two chapters earlier, in John 8:1-11: it’s 32 AD and about two months before the start of Hanukkah. Jesus is once again in the temple and has just publicly forgiven this woman of her sin of adultery while surrounded by the Jewish Pharisees. They actually caught her in the act of adultery, then brought her to Jesus while He was teaching! They expected Him to sanction her public execution by stoning, which the Old Testament law required. Instead, He forgives her sin because of her repentant heart, and frees her to “go, and sin no more.” This is when He speaks our verse for this week, John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but has the light of life.”
What does Jesus do next? Just look one chapter further. In John chapter 9, Jesus performs His second work as He is passing through the temple. There is a blind man that Jesus publicly heals by restoring his sight. What does Jesus announce as He is performing this miracle? “As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” There is now no doubt that His words and actions solidify His claim. He is God’s Messiah, the true Light of the world, who heals us (just like the woman and the blind man) of our sin.
What does all this mean? How are the words and works of Jesus Christ relevant to us in America today? Things haven’t changed from 32 AD. We all are sinners, searching for forgiveness for what we have done. And just as with the woman and the blind man, God can only forgive you of your sin if you willingly respond the same way the blind man responded to Jesus after He regained his sight. In John 9:35, Jesus returns to find the man who can now see, and asks him a direct question: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” The once blind man responds simply in verse 38: “’Lord, I believe!’ And he worshipped Him.”
The Christmas season does have similarities to the Hanukkah ‘Festival of Lights’, but it is unique to Christians as the season to worship Jesus Christ, the Light of the World who is still willing to forgive anyone of your sin – regardless of what you have done – if you are willing to do the same as the woman and the blind man: place your trust in Him to free you from the bondage of your sin.