Advent and Hanukkah Lights

Our menorah and our crèche stand side by side every December. When we go into our basement to unpack our holiday treasures, our family prepares to celebrate Roger’s Jewish traditions as well as my Christian beliefs. Hanukkah and Advent overlap dates on the calendar, so our menorah candles and manger scene share space on our window sill.  The glowing lights grow increasingly bright as we add a candle each night to our menorah and light another candle on our Advent wreath.

Hanukkah menorah

Our children were immersed in both traditions from an early age. When they were feeling creative, the shepherds and kings would wander away from the stable to encircle the lights of the menorah. That doesn’t look all wrong to me – it is as if those tiny figures are reminding us that both holidays are celebrating hope and faith and trust. Both lift up God’s faithfulness in the past and encourage us to depend on God’s strength today.

The gift we endeavored to pass onto our children is the message of faith in an unfailing God and the joy that both holidays offer.

Our crèche and our menorah were both made in Israel. I bought the hand-crafted olive wood figures when I attended a three-week course in Jerusalem while I was still in seminary. The menorah was the first purchase Roger and I made as newlyweds.

Before we got married, we had endless conversations about how to bring our two faiths together, honoring both, without compromising either. We both believe that God is bigger than any human expression of religion. We need the message and insights from both of these ancient traditions.

Advent wreath

When I see the lights of the menorah shining on the stable of Bethlehem, it lets me dream of a time when people of all faiths and backgrounds might join together to celebrate the hope God gives us to share.

 

Advent Peace

Today is the second Sunday of Advent – the Sunday of Peace. There doesn’t seem to be much peace in the world right now, does there?

Sometimes I think people regard Christians as delusional or perhaps simple-minded, especially during Advent and Christmas. We faithfully light the Advent candles, but even a casual observer could say – Hope? Peace? Love? Joy?  Why are you ignoring the world’s reality? Just where are you discovering those precious commodities these days?

No wonder many people relegate Christmas to the fantasy column with phrases like, “Christmas is for children.” As if to say – we adults know all of this isn’t real or true, but isn’t this a lovely fairy tale to share with the little ones.

But here’s the thing

  • Jesus isn’t Santa Claus.
  • Bethlehem isn’t the North Pole.
  • “In those days” is not the same as “’Twas the night before Christmas.”

The Christmas story is not a gently polished tale where everyone lives happily ever after. It’s a gritty story of survival. It starts with a baby born to refugee parents cast out of their homeland who couldn’t find a safe place to shelter on that momentous night.

Our story – the foundational story of Christianity – is about a toddler threatened by terrorists who committed a mass killing. If Mary and Joseph hadn’t run away to Egypt, Jesus would have been among the many little ones who died on that grim day remembered as “The Slaughter of the Innocence.”

Jesus lived – I wonder if he experienced survivor guilt because his father – unlike the other fathers in Bethlehem – had been warned in a dream about the threat that was coming.

Jesus – that Prince of Peace – never experienced a peaceful life. He knows what it is like to live on the margins, to be pushed aside and overlooked, to be mocked and criticized.

The gifts we celebrate at Christmas come out of his life experience.

  • Hope because we know about despair.
  • Peace in response to terror and fear.
  • Love to call us back to the heart of God.
  • Joy in the midst of sadness and tragedy.

Jesus – the Light of the world – comes to us who dwell in darkness.

It isn’t a fairy tale. These are very real gifts offered in response to very real need.

Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Advent image