Today is the first day of Hanukkah. This is a special Jewish religious festival. It dates back to the second century BCE. The Syrians had taken over Judea and taken possession of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. An altar was built to Zeus and pigs were sacrificed in the Temple. There was a Jewish revolt and the Temple was reclaimed in 165 BCE. The Temple then had to be cleansed and reconsecrated. When it was time to rededicate the Temple, there was only oil for the flame to burn for one day, but the fire lasted 8 days which was enough time to make and consecrate more oil. So, the festival of Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication to commemorate these traditions.
We see that Jews were celebrating Hanukkah long before Jesus; long before Christianity; and long before Christians were celebrating Christmas. There is even a reference in the Gospel of John to Jesus celebrating Hanukkah [John 10:22, Festival of the Dedication]. Of course he celebrated Hanukkah, he was Jewish.
While Jesus is the foundational figure for Christianity, we must remember that Jesus was Jewish. We are even told in the New Testament that Jesus was a rabbi. Therefore, there is absolutely NO place in any expression of Christianity or in any Christian teaching for anti Semitism. To be condemnatory of Judaism in any way is to be unChristian and even anti Christian.
Ok, so there is no room in Christianity for anti-Jewish sentiment because Jesus was Jewish, but what about other religions? Is it within the scope of Christianity to condemn other religions like Buddhism, Islam, or Hinduism? Again, let’s go back to Jesus. Jesus lived in a time when from the Jewish perspective there were basically Jews and “others” who were of other religious and cultural persuasions. Jesus was a Jew. Did he condemn those “others”? There are stories of Jesus healing “others”, feeding “others”, and forgiving “others”. But there are no examples of Jesus condemning the belief systems of the “others”, or condemning the “others” themselves. This shows us that there is no room in Christianity for condemning or attacking other religions or people who are not Christian. The increase in Islamaphobia in the US is decidedly unChristian.
When we think about God’s intention for Wonder-Full peace in the world, we know that there must be peace between people of differing religions. As Catholic theologian Hans Kung tells us, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions.” All major world religions teach acceptance and tolerance of different religions. All major religions also have extremists who ignore these teachings and foment conflict and contention between religions through disrespect and even violence.
Christianity is a religion of peace. Jesus teaches us to be loving to all people including those of different religions. Because we are Christian, we are compelled to seek peace with people of other religions and no religion. We can start by wishing our Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah!
Think of a time when you were exposed to an expression of religion other than Christianity. What common ground was there in that experience for you as a Christian?
Prayer: God is beyond all religions and within all religions. May we be true to our religion, Christianity, by loving all people and respecting all religions. This is our calling as followers of Jesus. Amen.