Have you ever thought you weren’t going to make it? Maybe physically … or maybe emotionally?
If so, then you, my friend, need to eat a latke. Because, honey, it’s all about the oil.
After seven years of living in Tennessee, I came to believe that the folks who started many of the Hanukkah traditions must have come from the South. Because we fry everything here. Even Twinkies. I kid you not!
And one of the great rules of Hanukkah is simply this: Eat lots of fried foods. (Maybe because we’re looking for another miracle: that God will miraculously unclog our arteries?) Mmm, jelly donuts …
Here’s the way it happened.
The Promised Land (formerly the Land of Canaan) had been a crossroads throughout history, and at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (everybody say “Boo, hiss” because he’s the bad guy), it was no less important.
This dude was determined to integrate the Israelis into his culture. The idea was that if they gave up their religion and identified with the Seleucid Greeks, they would be less rebellious. A lot like the Borg, actually. “Resistance is Futile. You will be assimilated.”
One of the things Antiochus (boo, hiss) did was defile the Temple. He set up an altar to Zeus and he sacrificed a pig (the ultimate symbol of unholiness to the Jews) on the altar. You couldn’t really get any worse. He sent soldiers out into the surrounding villages to order the people to bow to his god, Zeus. In the village of Modin, they succeeded in getting some to bow down, but Judas Maccabeus (everyone cheer, Yay!) killed the traitors, gathered a group of his buddies, and headed for the hills. The group lived in caves and conducted guerrilla warfare on the Greek/Seleucid troops.
It took a few years, but eventually, they won. Which was a pretty big deal in itself. I mean, the Greeks were major big time warriors. But it helped that the Jews had God on their side.
They cleaned up the Temple and wanted to start worshiping there again. The problem was, they could only find one vial of holy oil. Enough to light the Temple menorah for just one day.
This wasn’t merely about oil, though. This was about worship. About being God’s people. The Temple had been desecrated. They hadn’t been able to worship properly for years. They were ready to make up for lost time. But they needed the holy oil. And it took time to make it and to consecrate it.
They went ahead and used the container of oil that they had. It would last for a day … and then what? But after a day, the menorah continued to burn. Then another day and another. It burned for eight days! A miracle! They were able to dedicate the Temple and use it again.
A year later, Hanukkah was established officially as a holiday to remember and celebrate all that God had done. During Hanukkah, we light candles for each of the eight days. The candles are lit by a “servant candle,” making the Hanukkah menorah slightly different from the regular menorah. On day one, we light the servant candle, which is used to light one candle. We tell stories, give gifts, sing, dance, and play games until the two candles burn out. The second day, we repeat the process with the servant candle lighting 2 candles. And so on. These — and especially the foods fried in oil — remind us of the miracle of the oil and the way God worked it out so the Jews could dedicate the Temple (and themselves) to Him again, and worship Him freely.
For this reason, Hanukkah is also called the Feast of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. (See John 10 for Jesus’ Hanukkah sermon. Which might be another good reason to celebrate Hanukkah: Because Jesus did.)
This oil of dedication … let’s take it a little further, shall we? The point in dedicating the Temple was to be able to truly worship God, to serve Him, to honor Him. It’s not just about going to synagogue (or church, as is the case for most of us having this discussion). It’s about seriously setting ourselves aside — being dedicated to Him. If I’m dedicated to writing a book, it means that I put my all into it. If you’re dedicated to having a good marriage, it means you make that your number one goal. Being dedicated to God means that we put Him first, that our primary desire in life is to bring Him glory.
As Christians, we use oil for anointing those who need healing, whether it’s physical, emotional, spiritual, relational … There isn’t magic in the oil. It’s a symbol: “an outward sign of an inward act of grace.” But when we go forward in church or ask the elders to come to our home to pray for us and anoint us, do we stop and consider what the oil means? Do we take seriously the fact that anointing is dedicating? When we come to God for healing, we humble ourselves. We admit that we need His healing touch, that we cannot do the work of getting well on our own.
The same goes for other kinds of anointing. In some Christian traditions, ordination and other rituals of appointment include anointing with oil. It’s clearly a time of being formally and publicly dedicated to serving God. In many ways, this should be true for all of us. Whatever our calling — not just those who are vocationally leading in the Church — we should view that calling as our act of worship to God. He gave us the gifts and talents that we need, as well as the strength and desire to carry out the task. And He gives us an amazing sense of fulfillment when we trust Him and do what He called us to do.
Which brings me back to the Temple oil. There wasn’t enough. How often do you feel like you’re not up to whatever God has called you to do? You don’t have the strength, courage, intelligence, finances, or other resources to accomplish what He’s set you apart for. This isn’t just your lack of self-esteem: It’s true. You don’t have that! And praise God that you don’t. Because where we are weak, He is made strong. Where we don’t have it — and where we admit that we don’t have it — He provides.
He miraculously provided oil that lasted eight days instead of one. He can just as miraculously provide whatever it is you need to be able to do His will, if you want to totally and joyfully dedicate yourself to Him.
What’s the next step? Go eat some latkes, of course!
Oh … were you looking for an actual recipe? Here you go …
If you missed part one of this series, go here.
For part two, go here.