December 25: Christmas and the First Day of Hanukkah

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Christmas is celebrated December 25 on the Gregorian calendar.  The first day of Hanukkah is celebrated Kislev 25 on the Hebrew calendar.  This year December 25 and Kislev 25 coincide, which is unusual.  Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration, will end January 1, 2017.

HANUKKAH IS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

You won’t find the celebration of Hanukkah or the term Feast of Dedication (the other name for Hanukkah) in the Old Testament.  It’s in the New Testament.  It’s prophesied in the Book of Daniel but occurred between the writing of the Old and New Testaments.

Did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah?  Yes.  John 10: 22-24 gives an account of Jesus celebrating Hanukkah, a.k.a. the Feast of Dedication.

And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter, and Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch (King James Version).

Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem.  Yeshua was walking in the Temple around Solomon’s Colonnade (TLV–Tree of Life Version).

WHAT IS HANUKKAH OR THE FEAST OF DEDICATION?

The events that led to the Feast of Dedication are found in the Books of Maccabees and prophesied in the Book of Daniel.  “The king of the north” in Daniel 11: 9, is not named.   However, “the king of the north” appears to be Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-164 B.C.), Seleucid ruler of the Syrian Kingdom, who persecuted the Jews and turned the temple of God into a pagan temple.

Antiochus tried to stamp out the Jewish religion and culture by forbidding circumcision, worshipping on the Sabbath, reading the Torah, etc.  He desecrated the temple by erecting a statue of Zeus and sacrificing a pig on the altar.  The Maccabees, a Jewish family, led the military revolt that defeated Antiochus.

With Antiochus out of way, the temple had to be cleansed and rededicated to God, hence the Feast of Dedication.  The priests had enough oil to keep the mennorrah burning for one day only, but the oil lasted for eight according to legend.

ANTIOCHUS IV FORESHADOWS THE ANTI-CHRIST

Antiochus IV is a prototype of the anti-christ.  Below is a description of “the king of the north.”

“His forces will rise up and profane the fortified Temple; they will stop the daily offering and set up the abomination of desolation  With smooth words he will seduce those who act wickedly against the covenant, but the people who know their God will stand strong and prevail” (Daniel 11: 31-32, TIV).

“So the king will do as he pleases, exalting and magnifying himself above every god.  He will even speak outrageous things against the God of gods.  He will prosper until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been decided will be done” (Daniel 11: 36, TIV).

When speaking of the anti-christ, Jesus referred to the Book of Daniel.  “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak” (Matthew 24: 15-18, NASB).

HANUKKAH AND THE BIRTH OF CHRIST

Although Jesus was not born on *December 25 but probably in the spring, his birth is linked to Feast of Dedication.  The cleansing of the temple set the stage for the coming of the Messiah.  Both are linked to eschatology.  The Messiah will return as King of Kings to defeat the anti-christ and rule the earth (Daniel 7: 1-14; Revelation 19: 11-16).

 

*Suggested reading:

STORIES BEHIND THE GREAT TRADITIONS OF CHRISTMAS by Ace Collins (Zondervan, 2003).

ALL ABOUT CHRISTMAS by Maymie R. Krythe (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1954).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where is Heaven?

My mother passed away a year ago.  I say “passed away” because I’m not at the point where I can say “died.”  Jesus and the Apostle Paul used the term “asleep.”  In I Thessalonians 4: 13-14, Paul wrote, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow no, even as others which have no hope. For if we beleive that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (KJV).

My mother loved to play the piano, but the last few years of her life, she narrowed down her favorite pieces to two or three songs.  The one she played the most was “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”  She played it in every key.  Mom would say to me, “How old am I?”  I would tell her and she would say, “I can’t live much longer.”  (She lived to be 97.)

14238336_1041597289242172_8174105174478014484_n-1Mom loved to ask questions–especially questions that are hard or impossible to answer. Many times she would ask, “Where is heaven?”  I would say something like, “I don’t know.  I guess it’s another dimension.”  Actually, Mom wasn’t that interested in my answer; she just enjoy asking the question.

My mother told me that she wanted a graveside service, not a funeral.  She gave me specific scriptures to be read and songs to sing at the service.  The songs were “O God Our Help in Ages Past” and “Amazing Grace.”  I added one more:  “He Ransomed Me,” a song she wrote herself.

Her favorite Bible verse was James 4: 14.  “For what is your life?  It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”  I wasn’t fond of the quote.  I would say, “Mom, lets put the verse in context.”  If I tried to read the verses after it, Mom would say, “I don’t want to hear it in context.  I like it the way it is.”

Mom passed away December 8, 2015, and was cremated per her instructions.  Her graveside service was held in Lynchburg, VA, the following April.  Friends and relatives were given the opportunity to share their memories of my mother.  I knew I had to say something, but what?

I had no idea what to say except that I idolized her.  She was beautiful, a gifted pianist and painter, a wonderful mother, and a helpmate to my father, a Methodist minister.  The night before the service, I was rummaging through her writings and drawings looking for inspiration when suddenly I came across a drawing of a staircase that appeared to be suspended in air.   I gaped at Mom’s drawing.  Now I knew what to say at her graveside service.

The preacher (my son-in-law) conducted the service, using the hymns and verses that Mom had requested and sharing his thoughts.  When he asked if people would like to share their memories of Mom, I waited my turn.

I started by sharing Mom’s favorite verse then attempted to answer her question: “Where is Heaven?”   The staircase she had drawn said it all.  I read from Genesis 28: 10-17:

Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.  And  he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that palce to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.  And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.  The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.  Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in  you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to the land.  For I will not leave you unti I have done what I have promised you.”  Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”  And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Isn’t it interesting that Jacob called Bethel the house of God and the gate of heaven?  Bethel means “house of God.”

I suspect that Jacob’s ladder was more like a spiral staircase than a modern-day ladder.   The Bible has a lot to say about heaven, a subject I’d like to explore in depth in a future post.  Meanwhile, suffice it to say that heaven is where God is.  And today my Mother is celebrating her first birthday in heaven.

A few days before my mother “fell asleep,” she saw Jesus and let me know it.   Around 4 p.m. on the 8th of December, during the Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights (John 10: 22-28), her spirit left her body and she climbed the spiral staircase.

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William Blake [Public Domain]

 

 

 

 

The Valley of Jehoshaphat

The phrase “Valley of Jehoshaphat” occurs only twice in the Bible, both in the third chapter of the Book of Joel.  Jehoshaphat was a good king because he obeyed God’s commandments, walked in His ways, and did not follow the false gods Baal and Asherah.  He defeated the enemies of Judah and Israel in a valley–perhaps the valley that Joel refers to as the Valley of Jehoshaphat.  (You can read about King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 17-20.)

The name Jehoshaphat means “the LORD judges.”     The English Standard Version of the Bible, introduces Joel 3 with the heading “The LORD Judges the Nations.”  Consider verses 1 and 2 below:

“For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.  And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land.”

Where is the Valley of Jehoshaphat?  The Valley of Jehoshaphat is believed to be the Kidron Valley.  The Kidron Valley runs between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount.  I took some photos in Jerusalem last winter in that area (see below).  Look for the drop between the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount.  That’s the Kidron Valley.

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Photo taken from the Mount of Olives, which is a cemetery today.
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The Mount of Olives is on the left.

The Kidron Valley contains a number of tombs, including the tomb or pillar of Absalom.   “The valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23 is beleived to be the Kidron Valley.

Yeshua was in Jerusalem when he compared religious hypocrites to “white washed tombs, which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23: 27, NASB).  The metaphor might have been inspired by the “white washed tombs” in the Kidron Valley.

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