As we think about sharing Jesus with those of other faiths, it can be really beneficial to start by looking for the common denominators, before exploring why Jesus is different. With both Hanukkah and Christmas happening around this time of year, it’s a great opportunity to look at what is similar about the two celebrations and how we can share the truth of Jesus from a place of greater understanding.
Firstly, Christmas is celebrated in order to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the son of God that was miraculously born to Joseph and Mary:
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:34-35
Christmas is the celebration of the greatest gift: Jesus the Light of the world coming to earth. What some people might not know, however, is that Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is the Jewish Festival of Lights and dates back to two centuries before the beginning of Christianity. The festival is celebrated for eight days, and in the western calendar this happens in November or December.
Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is the Jewish Festival of Lights and dates back to two centuries before the beginning of Christianity.
The word Hanukkah means ‘rededication’ and commemorates the Jews’ struggle for religious freedom. The festival marks the phenomenal victory of a group of Jews called the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks, the most powerful army of the ancient world. When the Maccabees rededicated the temple, they discovered a single cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest still intact. When they came to light the eight-branched menorah, they only had enough oil to last a day but the menorah miraculously stayed alight for eight days. This became known as the miracle of the oil. It is because of this miracle that candles are lit from right to left during Hanukkah.
They point to a common denominator that we both agree on: the Messiah is coming.
These events, though centuries apart, have a very important significance tied to them because of two distinct elements; miracles and light. These are our shared and common values of both Hanukkah and our Saviour Jesus Christ, and they point to a common denominator that we both agree on: the Messiah is coming.
I believe this presents a great opportunity to start a discussion, and a good way to introduce Jesus to our Jewish friends is through Isaiah 53. As Jews don’t read the New Testament, using this passage from the Old Testament helps us to explore who Jesus is, and presents a reality of the Saviour and Light of the World who died for us, taking all our sins on Himself even before we knew Him. This way we can start explaining that we believe the Saviour has already come in Jesus, even though we await His second coming.
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12
We can also share how the oil that is remembered in Hanukkah links to the anointing we receive as believers for the great commission, and also the anointing of Jesus. As Jesus was a Jew and knew the scriptures, He quoted from Isaiah to claim that He was the fulfilment of the prophecies and the anointed one:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” – Luke 4:18
Even when we know these common denominators, it can still feel daunting to explore who Jesus is with our friends, so I find a really helpful reminder to give us boldness is that, through Jesus, we now carry His same light with us:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14–16
As we remember the Miracle of Light at Hanukkah, and the even greater miracle of the Light of the world coming to earth in Jesus at Christmas, let’s love and celebrate one another during this season and be a witness to the Light of God.