One of my good friends, who was Jewish, died this year. I did not get to say good-bye. Tonight, while I am celebrating Christmas Eve, I am going to light candles. Tonight, if he were here, he would be lighting a candle too, on a menorah, to mark the beginning of Hanukkah. Tonight, I will light one for you.
Tonight, in a rare alignment of calendars, marks the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah and the Christian celebration of Christmas Eve. While Hanukkah is a celebration of a different miracle of light (the mysteriously un-ending supply of oil that supplied eight days of light during battle by the Maccabees which led to the rededication of the Temple in 166 BC), it is an annual reminder that God sends light into the dark places of our world and our lives. We can celebrate this other truth as well: Jews and Christians alike await the coming of the promised messiah. As the noted theologian, Martin Buber suggested, “Let’s all pray for the messiah-Christians and Jews alike. When he arrives, we’ll ask if he’s been here before.” As Rabbi Michael Gottlieb puts it, “Christianity dispels a lot of darkness…. In its glow, it challenges Christians and non-Christians alike to consider that which his transcendent, eternal and greater than all of us.” (WSJ 12.23.16)
Tonight, Jews and Christians around the world will celebrate the miracle of light which sustains us during the battles of life. Tonight, Jews and Christians alike will rededicate themselves to worship God and God alone. Tonight, we will all draw closer to God by lighting a candle which carries the hope that God still is doing miracles. Tonight, Jews and Christians alike will think about the messiah, the one who, on the last day, we will have the joy of knowing “he’s been here before.”
I never made one effort to convert my Jewish friend to Christianity. I saw no need to do so. God already saved him. As a recent resolution by a German church organization puts it, “The secret of God’s revelation includes both the expectation of the return of Christ in splendor and the confidence that God will save his first-called people.” (Christian Century, 12.21.16) I believe this beautiful statement of faith expresses precisely the sentiment of Paul’s words: “…all Israel will be saved…for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:26,29).
Tonight, I will be thinking of my friend. While I did not get to say good-bye, one day he and I will together say, “Hello. Hallelujah. He is here.”
Happy Hanukkah, friend. Merry Christmas.