Have you ever been in a dark room when someone suddenly turns on the light? If you were struggling to see, fumbling to find a switch, you are grateful. But if you were relaxing comfortably in that darkened room, you squint at the sudden onslaught of brightness, shielding your eyes and possibly demanding to know who flipped that switch. Light is not always welcome.
But light is exactly the metaphor that God uses to describe some of His most dramatic workings in our world, drama that we remember especially this month.
First, December 7 begins the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights.
This holiday commemorates events that occurred during a dark time for the nation of Israel. The Jewish people were under Syrian domination. Wicked King Antiochus was forcing Jews to assimilate—to abandon their heritage and their God. He desecrated the Temple and extinguished the eternal flame that burned as a symbol of God’s holy presence.
In that dark hour, light dawned. The Maccabees, a family of Jews who chose to oppose the evil Antiochus, arose to fight. Though vastly outnumbered, the Maccabees and their small army defeated the superior Syrian forces, recaptured the Temple and rekindled the eternal flame.
If you ask Jewish people about the meaning of Hanukkah, some will say that it represents victory against those who try to destroy the Jewish people by absorbing them into the larger society. Others will say that it represents the human spirit and what can happen when a few courageous people stand up for what is right. Some will joke wryly that it is the Jewish answer to Christmas. But many overlook a wonderful truth that Hanukkah illustrates—God consistently uses less to accomplish more. He empowers the weak and the few to overcome the powerful and the many. He doesn’t need to throw a galaxy of stars at the darkness in order to bring light.
On each night of Hanukkah, Jewish people will light special ninebranched candelabras. We light the ninth or servant candle” first and use it to light the other candles, one candle for the first night, two for the second and so on. By the eighth night all nine candles are burning brightly—each having received the light from that one servant.
Believers in Jesus see the same principle as we celebrate the Light of the World during this same season. That flame and the “servant candle” on the candelabra remind us of the servant Messiah who came as “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:32).
The Messiah came into this world at a dark time as well, as the prophet Isaiah predicted He would: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
During that dark time, the Jewish people were once again under foreign domination—this time by Rome. Poverty and injustice permeated the land. Rome insisted these impoverished people travel far from home in order to register. Their only reward was the privilege of handing over even more of their meager resources to the foreign occupier.
So it was that Mary and Joseph wound up in that hovel of a maternity ward in Bethlehem. The manger was probably set in a dark and dingy place, a cave of rock and dirt in the side of a hill rather than the cozy image of the crFche so often depicted at Christmas time. Yet from that dark place and in that dark time a bright light shone for the world to see.
When light scatters darkness it always causes a reaction. Do you remember the shepherds on the hillsides of Bethlehem? In the darkness of that night they were suddenly overwhelmed with the glory of the Lord shining all around.
Despite their fear they were drawn in wonder to that light. It brought them to the darkened cave where they bowed to worship that baby who was born the Light of the World. Just a baby, weak, even helpless. But the darkness could not withstand His light. And people responded in awe.
Of course not everyone welcomed His light. Herod tried to snuff it out. Later, many of the religious leaders felt threatened by His light. But even though He was crucified and buried, lying powerless once more in a darkened cave, three days later the light of Messiah burst forth from the grave. “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).
The darker the night the greater the light as Jesus shines through us
God’s drama continues today as He shines His light into the darkness. Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) That is our legacy as Jews and Gentiles who have received the Light.
We shouldn’t be surprised by the varied reactions or the drama that can erupt when we shine for God. Some look with joy toward that light, grateful to see what before had only been shrouded in darkness. Others raise their hands to shield their eyes or loudly demand to be left in darkness.
When Jews for Jesus first began back in the 1970s we were located in Marin County, north of San Francisco. But Moishe and the early founders of Jews for Jesus felt compelled to move our offices into the city. We believed that God wanted us to truly be that city that can’t be hidden, to shine brightly in a dark place. We have been here in San Francisco ever since. As things have grown increasingly dark here, His light shines all the brighter. And those who shine it along with us here in San Francisco are our allies in a drama that will continue to play out “…until the day dawns and the morning star rises…” (2 Peter 1:19).
The darker the night the greater the light as Jesus shines through us. All this month our missionaries will be out in key cities around the world, handing out gospel tracts like the one enclosed with this newsletter. Yet everyone who knows Jesus is called to shine for Him, whether in the city or the countryside, at home or at work. If you feel weak and small, mazel tov—it’s all the more evidence of your calling. Remember that God has a habit of doing more with less.
As we celebrate the true Light coming into the world, I can’t think of any better way to mark the season than by making ourselves available and vulnerable to shine as lights in the darkness. Together, let’s shine out for Him that He might receive all the glory!