I shall never forget the very first time I saw a Christmas Tree decorated from floor to ceiling in light – quite literally. Tiny little candles painstakingly attached to every single branch of a huge pine tree that filled its space, the room and the people round it with sheer delight! If I close my eyes now, I can still see that beautiful tree…
For all sorts of reasons, this has been a year when my mind has returned time and time again to pondering the whole fascinating theme of LIGHT – in all its many applications and ramifications. Perhaps it has something to do with a world spinning further and further off course, returning – in so many shapes and forms – into that state of chaos, it increasingly seems, that eons ago, prompted the Creator to declare, “Let there be Light!”
Auspiciously….. and very much in keeping with Light reflections…..this year (and next it seems), it just happens that the Jewish “Festival of Lights” known as Hanukkah, actually begins at sunset on December 24th. Tonight then, while Christians the world over are celebrating Christmas Eve, Jewish people everywhere will be lighting the first Hanukkah candle. As one esteemed Rabbi comments, “This year’s coinciding holidays serve as a reminder of the bond between Christians and Jews and our shared biblical tradition.” It is a point further emphasised in Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Christmas greeting to Christians worldwide.
This “coinciding” of Christmas and Hanukkah is significant for other reasons too – reasons that have much to do with the true time frame of the momentous event Christians celebrate at this time of year.
From the clues gleaned from careful study and piecing together information in the gospel accounts and other key scriptures, it is possible to work out, almost to the day, the exact date on which Jesus Christ was born. And contrary to western tradition, it is now quite certain that Jesus was not in fact born in December but during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles that takes place either in September or October (on the western calendar.)
If the 25th of December does not, however, represent the precise day and date when Christ was born, it is entirely possible that it might be the time of year – if not the day itself – when, as the gospel account of the apostle John describes it, “the Word was made flesh”….. when Christ in fact was conceived, miraculously, in the womb of a young virgin….. timed by Heaven, to take place during the December, Jewish celebration of Lights.
The plot thickens!! For the first day of the Festival of Lights is always – on the Jewish calendar – on the 25th of the month, a number known to the Hebrew scholar, to represent the word “Light.” How extraordinary, then, that the very date Christians all over the world have celebrated Christ’s Birth for centuries, should also happen to fall on the 25th!
Of course the kill-joys and the sceptics will persist in their old argument that we cannot possibly know the actual day that Christ was born (let alone conceived!)…. while others will reject the celebration of Christmas on the grounds of its pagan origins and traditions.
Both – to my way of thinking – overlook the unfathomable depths and immensity of God’s Love for His Creation and the fact that, quite simply, nothing is impossible with Him. Can He not easily overlay the imperfections and limited intelligence and knowledge of man with His own limitless and perfect wisdom? And be propelled by Compassion to do so, knowing all too well our feeble “frame?” And ultimately, is it not less our choice than HIS that we should celebrate the coming of LIGHT into a darkened world and creation on a date chosen by divine ordinance to signify LIGHT?
Light is indeed a wonderful image for the Saviour of mankind, especially prominent in John’s Gospel account, abounding as it does, with references equating Him with this essential life-giving force. Not simply life-giving either, but life-illuminating as its meaning in the Hebrew language infers. It is a theme beautifully explored in Holman Hunt’s (1827-1910) breathtaking masterpiece, entitled “The Light of the World.” The painting, donated to St. Paul’s in 1908, now stands above the altar in a tiny chapel within the cathedral, inviting any passer-by to spend some quiet time in contemplation. It reminds me of all I cherish and celebrate in the Christmas season…. wrapped up in that simple announcement of the prophet Isaiah, “Unto us a child is born……”
And so… as I ponder these mysteries again this Christmas season – and light a candle in honour of Hanukkah – I think of that very first heartbeat of the SON of LIGHT…. as He begins His earthly existence in Mary’s womb…. a little pinpoint of Light and Life, destined from before the beginning of time to rescue and redeem a lost and fallen world…..as only HE would be able to do.
And my prayer is ever, “LORD, Let there be Light”…….. the LIGHT that manifested itself in the most extraordinary way over 2000 years ago in a single tiny pulse of the purest, miracle-working supernatural Light… the Light that heals, transforms….brings Hope, gives Life…..the Light that comforts shattered lives and broken hearts and of which it takes only the tiniest glimmer, to compromise the deepest darkness. This is the Glad Tidings of Great Joy that fills my heart and soul with LIGHT at Christmas.
- Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights and it remembers the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This happened in the 160s BCE/BC. (Hanukkah is the Jewish word for “dedication.”)
- A good account of how scholars have used the Scriptures to work out when Christ was born can be found here: