When I was in graduate school working on my MA in Theology, I took a class called "Salvation is from the Jews." To say it was eye-opening was an understatement. For the first time, the Jewish faith and its connection to Catholicism and Jesus Christ were laid out in plain sight. Since then, I have a great appreciation for the Jewish faith and the history of its people. Understanding the Old Testament and the revelations of God to the Israelites can only help us to understand our own faith more deeply. Indeed, I'm not sure that a fully fleshed out Christian faith can be possible without an understanding of the Jewish practices. That's like saying Western Civilization had nothing to do with Aristotle or Descartes, but that it just appeared one day in Washingon.
Hallmark usually creates a Jewish ornament in their annual line, so I've written some thoughts on them below.
Feast of Dedication 2018 Debra Nielsen
This ornament is called the Feast of Dedication, also known as the Festival of Hanakkah. This Jewish festival is also called the Festival of Lights, so how appropriate that when this ornament is placed in the light, the tips of the candles look as though they are lit! Another visual teaching element to this ornament are the branches and the roots. They remind us, and the Jewish people, that our faith has been handed on to us by many witnesses and previous generations. The branches are above the blue Star of David, referring to those alive today, carrying on the tradition, while the roots under the star point to those who went before. Nevertheless, all are connected through the same faith.
Although it is fairly obvious why this day is called the Festival of Lights, since the centerpiece of the 8 days includes the ritual lighting of the menorah, why is it also referred to as the Feast of Dedication? In fact, the Hebrew word "Hanakkah" or "Chanukah" translates to "dedication," signifying the importance of the dedication. Www.history.com explains "Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem during the second century B.C, following the triumph of a small group of Jewish rebels, known as the Maccabees, against their oppressors the Greek-Syrians, who had defiled the temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls. In order to rededicate the temple, the Maccabees had to light a menorah that would burn within the temple at all times. However, they only had enough pure olive oil to last for one day." Miraculously, however, the oil burned for 8 full days, enabling the re-dedication of the Temple.
Since offering sacrifice to alien gods and eating pigs were both strictly forbbiden to the Jewish people, being considered a personal insult to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the re-dedication and purification of the Temple were extrememly important.
Since then, the lighting of the menorah has served as a way to remember (that's re-member, meaning to participate through ritual in the original saving event) God's saving action in helping the unlikey band of rebels defeat a much larger army, and the reclamation and restoration of the center of worship for the Jewish people. It reset the balance, so to speak. The people could once again approach God in his house. Hanakkah is a celebration and reminder that God can and will do the same thing today.
For Christians, reflecting on the lighting of the menorah can serve as a good reminder to take a look at our own temples. Today, temples are both our individual hearts and homes, as well as an entire parish community. It would do us well, as we light our own Advent candles to await the coming of the Light of Lights, Jesus, to look at the altars to strange gods we have erected, in our lives and in our communities, and to notice who and what we are prepared to sacrifice. We could probably all use a re-dedication festival.
2017 Season of Miracles Terri Steiger
This is one of my favorite ornaments from this year. I love its simplicity. Just 2 dominant colors, gold and royal blue, inset into the background color, white. One shape, the interlocking triangles, repeated 4 times. It's not flashy or over the top. It just is what it is. It owns it's own presence, so to speak.
And after all, isn't that the true meaning of simplicity? The word "simplicity" can be referred to by 2 other words - "natural" and "honest". No subterfuge. No hidden agenda. No secrets or dishonesty.
Many Scripture scholars tell us that Jesus identified himself as Israel. Not just as a member of the Israelite people, although he did that, too. Jesus took this understanding further. He himself was the collective Israel, the one who would suffer for love of his God, the one who would hear the words of the Lord and obey, the one who would keep the Law perfectly. This ornament captures that understanding.
Jesus didn't hide who he was, or what he came to do (although he did tell some people to wait in revealing who he was.) He was simplicity embodied, made flesh. He had no subertfuge - his message was right out there, as plain as he could make it. He challenged the people of his day, and he challenges us as well, to live this radical simplicity of being honest and natural, of refraining from manipulating people by telling them half-truths. Jesus was also a great leader. He was not afraid of confrontation. He chose to be true, not popular.
This "Season of Miracles" ornament prompts us to ask ourselves - are we living lives of simplicity? Even though we, unlike the Jewish people caught in the Nazi regime, are not forced to wear a symbol identifying us as followers of this Jewish leader, are we nevertheless still identifiable by our words? By our actions? By our lives?
Star of David 2014 Ruth Donikowski
To me, this ornament represents the completion of the covenants. In the Old Testament. God worked with his people over many generations and many thousands of years, preparing them for the coming of the Messiah by giving them covenants. Yes, it is true that there were many covenants because the people kept breaking them, but that's not anything new still today!
This symbol, the Star of David, represents God's dominion over everything. Each of the tips of the star point to a different area - north, south, east, west, up and down - all of the physical world. Yet the snowflake in the middle of this star takes that understanding one step further - into inner space. It represents the coming of the New, Final, and Eternal Covenant with Jesus Christ.
Remember that the big covenant, so to speak, for the Jewish people was the Mosaic Covenant, where Moses is given the Law. The Old Testament speaks eloquently of The Law, comparing it to honey, saying that the one who keeps The Law is blessed. The Mosaic Law gave the Israelites the way to keep God's commands and live in relationship with him. But, God's commandments were - literally- written in stone. The coming of Jesus changes that. "The heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26 The Law, once written on tablets of stone, is now incarnate; walking, talking, eating, and teaching among us. But, it doesn't stop there.
At the Last Supper, Jesus institutes the Eucharist, replacing the Passover meal with his own body, blood, soul and divinity. The Scripture quote above from Ezekiel is extended to all those who follow Jesus, and consume the Eucharist. The Law - no longer hard and inert, but living food - now enters into our own inner spaces, into our own hearts, seeking the same transformation in us that took place at the Last Supper, seeking to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, making us into other Christs.