Tag Archives: candles

Tealights for Hanukkah

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. This phrase is perhaps the only thing many of us know about Hanukkah. Contrary to popular opinion, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. In fact, Hanukkah’s roots are even older than Christmas is. Hanukkah is a beautiful celebration of God’s faithfulness and has a wonderful story behind it.

The story of Hanukkah can be found in 1 Maccabees. When Alexander the Great overtook the Middle East, he sent governors who oppressed the Jewish people. They desecrated the Temple by slaughtering pigs (unclean animals according to Jewish law) on the alter and dedicated it to Zeus.

Most of the Jews felt helpless in the face of the Greek juggernaut, but there was a group of men, called the Maccabees, who refused to stand for the atrocity. They attacked the Greek soldiers and regained control of the Temple. In order to purify it, they needed to burn purified oil on the Temple lampstand. Unfortunately, the preparation of  the special oil took eight days, and they only had one day’s worth of oil to burn. They decided to take a step of faith and burn the oil. The next morning, the lampstand was burning low– but the oil jar was full once more! Each day for eight days, the jar was miraculously full in the morning. On the last day, when the new oil was ready, the jar was empty.

This story is not wonderful simply because God worked a miracle by renewing the oil. It is wonderful because it reflects God’s heart for His people. By providing the oil and allowing the Temple to be purified, God made a way for His people to have a place to worship Him and connect with Him. He wants His children to have a relationship with Him.

I am not Jewish; I believe that Jesus Christ fulfills the Messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. I believe that He is the one who is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” But I also think that any holiday that celebrates God’s goodness is worth observing, so I light eight candles on Hanukkah each year.

I made a menorah a few years ago, but I left it back in Phoenix. So, this year, I set up nine tea lights on a shelf and raised the center one using the cap of some glitter spray I used.  Unfortunately, tea lights don’t last nearly as long as miraculous Temple oil, so tapers would be a better choice in the future. Still, it looks pretty.

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It is traditional to eat food fried in oil during Hanukkah to commemorate the Temple oil. Latkes are especially popular during the holiday. So, I decided to make some!

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Ben and Matt helped me make latkes

 

Latkes are basically potato cakes. All you need to make them is chopped onion, shredded potato, and some salt, a little flour, egg, and oil. Heat the oil one inch deep in a pan. Mix all the other ingredients together, form into balls, and press into pan to create a pancake shape. Fry until golden-brown.

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From a Christian perspective, Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets, so every Jewish holiday points directly to Jesus Christ. Passover points to His death and resurrection, Day of Atonement points to His self-sacrifice for our sins, and Hanukkah points to the privilege of relationship with God that Jesus gives to us. During the Maccabean Revolt that instituted Hanukkah, God gave His people the ability to seek Him in the Temple. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, God gave us something even greater. Matthew 27:51 says that “at that moment [that Jesus died on the cross] the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The temple curtain was an incredibly thick, heavy cloth that separated the Holy Place (where Jewish men could worship) from the Holy of Holies (the place where God allowed his presence to rest; the place where only priests could go. When the curtain was torn, the barrier between us and the  presence of God was removed. The removal was not just a physical one. The tearing of the curtain was a representation of the removal of the barrier between God and man. Jesus’ sacrifice broke the sin barrier between us and God. Now, we can have direct access to God. Just as God was willing to work a miracle to allow the Jews to connect with Him again in His Temple, He was willing to offer the unthinkable so that now everyone may connect with Him from anywhere.

Second Sunday of Advent: Forgiveness

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Last week, I wrote the history, tradition, and significance of Advent season.  Today, I will be talking about what we did for the second week of Advent. If you like, you can gather your family and join in the timeless tradition of Advent devotions.

Tonight, we lit the second advent candle, the Forgiveness Candle. This candle reminds us that Jesus came to us in order to bring forgiveness of our wrongdoings.

The Bible tells us that the reason that Jesus came to us was to glorify God (John 17:1). The primary way He did this was by reconciling the world to God. From the very first, people alienated themselves from God by disobeying God. God commands that we do all things good and right, as is outlined in the Bible and written in our consciences. But each one of us has violated that command. Because even the smallest wrongdoing completely dirties us before God, we are unable to enter his presence as we are. God is so completely holy that He does not tolerate the filth of unholiness. Because He is just, He requires punishment for wrongdoing– physical death and eternal separation from His presence after death.  But because God loves us and desires to show His mercy to us, He decided to make a way for our relationship with Him to be repaired. He sent His Son, Jesus, to the world to take the punishment for our wrongdoing. Jesus was the only one who could take on every wrong ever committed and bear our punishment in our place, because He was the only man who ever lived a perfect life with no mistakes. When He died, God turned His back on him and let Him bear the pain of physical death and separation from His presence for a short time. But because Jesus is God, the power of evil and death had no hold over him. After a short time in the grave, Jesus rose again, this time with a body that would never be destroyed! If we repent of our wrongdoing and accept Jesus’ sacrifice, we too can live forever with God. Our wrongdoings– every single one of them– have already been paid for by Jesus. We can be forgiven.

Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is the celebration of the first spark of hope for forgiveness entering the world.

For today’s Advent devotional reading, you can read the following verses:

Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Luke 1:68-79: “….for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of God…”

Because of the forgiveness of God, we no longer need to live with the burdens of guilt, of shame, or of fear. This freedom is the beautiful blessing of Christmas.

 

 

 

 

First Sunday of Advent

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

My family loves celebrations and traditions. Growing up, we had many wonderful traditions leading up to Christmas– little gifts for Christmas countdown, paper chains, setting out a new nativity scene every day for two weeks, picking out a live tree, decorating parties. Of all the traditions of my childhood, one stands out in my mind as a particular favorite. Every Sunday for the month leading up to Christmas, my mom would cook a special dinner and my dad would lead us in Christmas advent devotions. My memories of this annual event are so vivid. I can almost smell the scent of burning wax and hear my dad’s voice reading from the book of Luke in the Bible. This year, we’re thousands of miles away from my parents, but we’re carrying on the Advent tradition in our own home.

The Advent candle tradition has been observed for centuries by Catholics and protestants alike. Traditionally, a wreath is constructed from evergreen boughs, laid flat on the table, and four candles are arranged in a circle on the wreath. One tall, white candle is set in the center. Each of the four Sundays before Christmas, a new candle is lit. On the first Sunday, one candle is lit, on the second, two are lit, and so on. On Christmas, all four candles on the wreath are lit, and finally the white candle is lit, as well. This candle is the Christ candle and it honors the birth of Jesus.

The four candles in the circle have no set meaning, although there are many different names and symbolisms given to the candles. Some call them the peace, hope, love, and joy candles. In my home growing up, they each represented a different group that announced the coming of Jesus. The first candle was the prophet candle, representing Old Testament prophets; the second was the angel candle, representing the angels that appeared to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds; the third was the shepherd candle; and the fourth was the wise men candle.

Generally, the lighting of the candle is accompanied by devotional and scripture reading. My dad would always read from an Advent devotional book and then choose portions of Scripture to accompany it.

The lighting of the Advent candles is not a religious ritual. It is simply a way to prepare our hearts and minds for the Christmas season. Like many people observe Lent to help themselves remember and focus on the approach of Easter, Advent devotions help us to remember that Christmas is coming and also remember why we celebrate Christmas at all. It’s a time to take a break from the distractions and busyness of life and take a few minutes to think about the meaning of Christmas. It’s easy to get caught up in the endless Walmart isles of toys and the explosion of red and green in Hobby Lobby, Pinterest and our news feeds. But the true reason we even have Christmas at all is that 2000 years ago, a baby boy was born in a cave in the Middle East, and He changed the world.

Now that’s something to celebrate.

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In preparation for Advent Sunday, I bought some candles at the Chinese market next door– they didn’t have pink or purple candles, which are traditional, so I bought red, green, yellow and white instead. Oh, well. At least they look Christmassy! I went to a baby shower today and ended up with some bits of green ribbon, which look great tied around the candles. We don’t exactly have evergreen here, so my ribbon will suffice. Also, I think the circular formation of the candles must have some significance, but I don’t know what it is–anyway, it looked weird without a real wreath.  I set them up in a line and they looked beautiful.

Ben found an Advent devotional on his Logos app on his phone. We sat down to dinner with Matt, I lit the candle, and Ben began to read.

The devotional he chose called the first candle the Shepherd Candle. It signifies the Lord’s guidance in our life as a shepherd. In many places in Scripture, God is called our shepherd. It seems like a weird metaphor to a society without a whole lot of shepherds (or sheep for that matter), but it was a very tangible comparison for Middle Eastern ancients. A shepherd watches vigilantly and lovingly over his sheep, and he protects them from harm and cares for them.

Here are some Bible references that talk about Jesus as a shepherd:

If you don’t have Advent plans for this evening, why not take a few moments to read these scripture passages? Whether or not you have an Advent wreath, candles, or even a Bible in print, you can celebrate the Christmas season by celebrating Jesus.

 

What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Or how does your family observe Advent?