Hanukkah and Christmas: Bridging the “Great Divide”
By Dr. Mitch Glaser
Shalom from beautiful, sparkling, New York City! I don’t know about you, but the Hanukkah-Christmas season is my favorite time of year. For these few weeks, even the most Orthodox Jewish New Yorker or the most secular non-believer of any background cannot help but notice Jesus. You cannot walk down the street or shop at a department store without hearing Christmas carols. In fact, the Hanukkah-Christmas season is one of my favorite times of the year to intensify our evangelistic efforts to help refocus peoples’ eyes and hearts on the One who is undoubtedly God’s greatest and most generous gift to mankind.
For years, I’ve tried to persuade my Jewish family and friends that Christmas is a Jewish holiday at its very core. After all, this holiday was created to celebrate the birthday of the Jewish Messiah. By the same token, I’ve also tried to help my Christian friends understand how Hanukkah, a wonderful holiday in its own right, is “joined at the hip” with Christmas!
In fact, there would be no Christmas without Hanukkah. If Antiochus Epiphanes had succeeded in his nefarious plan to stamp out Judaism, the Hebrew language, culture, biblical heritage and religion would have been wiped off the map of history. If this had happened, then how could a Jewish Savior possibly have been born from the House of David (a Jewish king), in Bethlehem (a Jewish town) to a Jewish virgin (Mary)?
One of the great joys of celebrating Hanukkah is that it points to an all-powerful God who always keeps His promises. Yet it is still a challenge to help Jewish people and even many Christians see the links between Hanukkah and Christmas. I am not relating the two holidays because I want Christians to celebrate Hanukkah and Jewish people to celebrate Christmas—it is much more than that! The Hanukkah-Christmas connection demonstrates to Christians (and Jews) that without God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people throughout history, the promised Messiah could not have arrived. And the Christmas-Hanukkah connection demonstrates to Jews (and Christians) that faithfulness was fulfilled in the Messiah who was foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures and came in the flesh.
Although I like both holidays a lot, I am actually concerned about something far more important. You see, the disconnect between Christmas and Hanukkah reflects the deep chasm between Jesus and the Jewish people—and the disconnect between some Christians and the Jewish roots of their own saving faith. I crossed this divide when I was 19 years old as I embraced Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, who completely transformed my life. Ever since then, I’ve been telling Jewish people and others the glorious Gospel message of reconciliation.
This is what this holiday season is really about! It is my hope and prayer that my beloved Jewish people will receive the gift of God’s redemption in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. This proclamation is the very reason for the existence for your Mission to the Jewish People since 1894—helping Jewish people cross the 2,000-year-old gulf between Jesus and His chosen people.
The Great Divide
The borough of Brooklyn is where my wife and I make our home. It is also the location of our Charles L. Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies—in the heart of an Orthodox Jewish community. This community provides a clear illustration of the deep divide between Hanukkah and Christmas.
One of our favorite family activities during this time of the year is to drive around the religious Jewish neighborhoods and also the many Italian and Irish Catholic neighborhoods in Brooklyn. In the latter neighborhoods, there are rows of homes stretching for miles with the most ornate Christmas decorations you have ever seen! And in the Jewish neighborhoods, there are similar rows of homes with beautiful Hanukkah menorahs glowing in their front windows. It is very rare to see a home decorated for Christmas and a home decorated for Hanukkah next door to each other.
The neighborhood of the Feinberg Center is one where all you see from home to home are menorahs. There is not a Christmas tree, reindeer, Santa or nativity scene anywhere in this very religious Jewish community. The Jewish people who surround our center believe that Christmas is a Gentile story and that believing in Jesus, for a Jewish person, is the same as committing “ethnic suicide.” Our neighbors simply do not know the Jewish side of the Christmas story.
This is why my heart breaks for my own people—because they do not know the Jewish side to the story of Jesus, and how He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, when the prophet foretold that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” How I long for the day when our neighbors surrounding the Feinberg Center understand that the words of the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 9:6-7 are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah—that He is indeed the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace who will one day return to reign forever on the throne of His forefather David!
The chasm separating Hanukkah and Christmas can be crossed, because Hanukkah is a story about deliverance and Christmas is the story of the Jewish Messiah! Please continue to pray for Chosen People Ministries as we bring the message of Messiah to both Jews and Gentiles—especially over the next few weeks as we intensify our outreach across the globe.