As Christians began the season of Advent at the end of November, our Jewish neighbors began their celebration of Hanukkah. Here on Capital’s campus, these last few weeks of the semester were marked both by the lighting of a Christmas tree and the lighting of a menorah.
Hanukkah and the Advent/Christmas season share the practice of lighting candles. More importantly, they share the theme of the celebration of divine intervention in human history on behalf of God’s people. Yet Hanukkah and Christmas are distinct holidays observed by people of different religions.
Christmas celebrates the Christian belief that God became human in the birth of Jesus. We know this story best from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew and the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke.
Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Jewish Temple following the successful revolt of the Maccabees against the oppressive rule of Antiochus IV. Hanukkah’s description as the Festival of Lights, as well as its length, lift up the miracle that a one-day supply of oil lasted for eight nights. These elements of the Hanukkah story are recorded in the books of First and Second Maccabees and in the Talmud. (If you’re a member of my generation, you may know the Hanukkah story from the Peter, Paul, and Mary songs, “Light One Candle” and “Hayo, Haya.”)
Awareness of and sensitivity to the beliefs and practices of other religious traditions is not a once-a-year opportunity. Trinity is blessed to have a faculty member, the Rev. Dr. Paul Numrich, with academic expertise in interreligious relationships. Dr. Numrich’s current research focuses on interreligious sharing of space. Respecting physical space and how it is used can be a powerful embodiment of interreligious engagement. For examples of how this kind of engagement is taking shape across the U.S., you may wish to read this article published in the newsletter of the Jewish Community of Louisville (KY), in which Dr. Numrich is quoted.
Whichever holidays you celebrate at this time of year, may you be richly blessed!
The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D.
Trinity Lutheran Seminary forms leaders for Christ’s church at work in the world.