Yes, Hanukkah Can Have Meaning for Christians. Especially This Year

On October 7, I was sitting in a restaurant in the Newark airport, enjoying a cheese plate and waiting for my flight to Tel Aviv, Israel. I anticipated joining up with more than 300 people for our study trip together. As I waited, my phone lit up, notifying me that my flight to Tel Aviv had been canceled due to “unrest in the region.” My heart seized. I knew something had gone terribly wrong. I will never forget that helpless, heartbroken, and gutted feeling as I sat in the airport, waiting for my flight to take me back to Tennessee.  

Now I know. News outlets have reported that October 7, 2023, was the bloodiest day for Jews since the Holocaust. It has been referred to as “Israel’s 9/11.”


Each and every December, we see Christmas lights and decorations, Christmas trees with their ornaments. There seems to be a Santa found in every community, ready and available to take photos with kids (and even some adults). Gifts are given and received, and some are returned in early January. In the Christian calendar, the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day are called Advent. 

We see something else during the month of December: Nine-branched hanukkiahs in windows with ascending lights over the course of eight nights. We see dreidels, gelt, and lights lit. These things commemorate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Because Advent, Christmas, and Hanukkah all happen in the month of December, Christians sometimes associate Hanukkah with some sort of “Jewish Christmas.” But this is not so. The story and meaning of Hanukkah are better than and more than we know.

Hanukkah sits in my heart. I think about it throughout the year. I look forward to Hanukkah each and every year as I celebrate it with my Jewish friends. There is one word that rises up inside me when I think of Hanukkah, and it’s a word we cannot ever get enough of: hope. Hanukkah is a story of resistance to evil, and faithfulness in trusting the living God to bring deliverance, rededication, and consecration. It’s a story about victory against incredible odds and lights being lit in the darkness. 


The historical story of Hanukkah is anchored in the Intertestamental Period. This period covers approximately 400 years between Malachi and Matthew. In most of our Bibles, we have a blank, white page between the ending of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. A lot happened during those 400 years, including the birth, rise, and fall of Alexander the Great and his Greek empire. 

Alexander was one of the greatest military tacticians in human history, and under his command, the Greeks conquered kings and kingdoms in his quest to rule the whole world. Alexander was also a very effective missionary of Greek ideals. He wanted to spread Greek culture everywhere and see everyone embrace the Greek way. It’s something we call “Hellenism.” Alexander died in 323 B.C., and the Greek kingdom was divided among four of his generals. Two of them were named Ptolemy and Seleucus. The famous Cleopatra VII was a Ptolemy who ruled over Egypt. Seleucus was given Syria. The Ptolemies and Seleucid kingdoms continued forward. 

Antiochus IV was a Seleucid ruler who came to power over the Seleucid kingdom in 175 B.C. He gave himself the name “Epiphanes” which means “God manifest.” He wanted to radically impose Hellenism on his subjects, the Jews included. He inaugurated systematic policies to rip the heart of religious freedom and expression for the Jewish people. He forbade the feasts, festivals, and even Sabbath. Torah scrolls were found and burned. He outlawed circumcision and demanded the cessation of all sacrifices offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Antiochus IV took it one step further by desecrating the Temple. He built pagan statues to pagan deities within the Temple precincts and sacrificed a pig on the altar. He passed an edict that Jews in each city must make sacrifices to the Seleucids. An old man, a priest named Mattathias lived in Modein (17 miles from Jerusalem). He refused to offer the pagan sacrifice and the revolt against Antiochus IV began. When Mattathias died, his five sons carried the revolt forward. It is famously known as the Maccabean Revolt, led by Mattathias’ oldest son Judas “Maccabeus” (hammer). 

In 164 B.C., the Maccabeans reached Jerusalem and found the Temple utterly desecrated. They purposed in their hearts to cleanse the Temple. The Talmud tells the legendary story of the Maccabees finding one cruse of oil to light the ner tamid (eternal flame) of the menorah in the Temple. The cruse of oil was supposed to last for one day, but it miraculously stayed lit for seven more days while they sanctified more oil to light the menorah according to Torah instruction (see Exod 27:20-21). 

This is where the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah began. The ner tamid stayed lit as they cleansed, renewed and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem to the living God. Hanukkah means “dedication,” or even consecration. The lamp of the Lord did not go out. There was a sense that the presence of the Lord was with them. 

A light lit in the darkness is at the heart of Hanukkah. Hanukkah is also called the “Festival of Lights” and “Feast of Dedication.” Today, it is celebrated annually for eight days and nights in December, with the nine-branched hanukkiah being lit in ascending order each night until all branches are lit. 


Approximately 160 years later, Jesus, the light of the world was born in Bethlehem. While Jesus lived his own nativity, he never celebrated or experienced Christmas. He did, however, annually celebrate Hanukkah as an observant Jewish male and rabbi of Israel. A passage that always quickens my heart is John 10:22-23:

Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem.
It was winter,
and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 


Jesus, the light of the world, was celebrating Hanukkah with his people in Jerusalem at the Temple. As Christians, the story of Hanukkah invites us to consider our own rededication, renewal, and consecration to Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world, and he told his disciples that they were the light of the world in the Sermon on the Mount. We, too, are here to light lights wherever we go, making Jesus known. 

For me, Hanukkah is a deep story that provokes hope in my soul. This hope recently found me. 


In the days following October 7, I have sensed that Hanukkah will hold even greater significance this year for Jews around the world. 

When life hits us hard, Hanukkah reminds us to light lights in the darkness. In the famous words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “We can curse the darkness, or we can light a light.” Hanukkah reminds of the ancient and ever invitation to continually rededicate our lives to Jesus and the way of Jesus in this world. It reminds me to light lights in the darkness. It fuels hope deep in my heart. 

Scroll to Top