Written as part of an Advent Daily Devotional for the UCC in Wallace, ID
At sunset tonight, Jews all over the world will gather in their homes and light the first candle in their Menorah. Night by night, they will light one more until all eight Hanukkah candles are burning. They will eat latkes, spin the dreidel, give gifts and celebrate the miracle when, centuries ago, one night’s supply of oil burned eight days. They will light the candles giving thanks that the light didn’t go out then, and that it burns still today.
The festival remembers the invasion of an occupying army that destroyed the temple, defiled the altar, and sought to compel Jews to turn their backs on their God and bend the knee to traveling gods brought in from Syria. King Antiochus extinguished the eternal light of God in the temple, but failed to douse the fire that burned in Jewish hearts. It took years of recruiting and strategizing, but finally five brothers led the people as they drove the invaders out, reclaimed their temple, reestablished their religion and relit the light. They nearly gave up when they discovered there was only enough consecrated oil left for one night’s glow, but they lit it – and it burned for the eight nights necessary for more oil to be consecrated and declared worthy.
Night by night, they light one candle and turn it toward the outside world, so that their celebration and faith shine for all to see. Occasionally that light is met with hatred and resistance: menorahs destroyed, festivals marred, flames extinguished. On our best days and in the kindest places, neighbors and friends push against the dark and join in candle lighting, affirming as one that darkness can never destroy the light. Not then, not now, not ever.
On this night, they will light the first candle, giving thanks again that the darkness cannot extinguish their covenant with God. They light one candle and proclaim to the world that God dwells here, love lives on, faith burns bright. Let us also light one candle, giving thanks that together, we soften the darkness, we share the hope, we spread the light.