In October, Myer and David Jones began to feature Santa themes throughout their stores. It’s hard to miss the rush of the silly season and the requisite purchasing. Holidays in view are Hanukkah, Deepavali, and Christmas, each of which reminds us to spend so that people can be fulfilled. The madness compounds and money tightens whilst wallets splurge. All to say—capitalism rages.
150 years ago Christmas was a quiet holiday without all the spending. Similarly, Hanukkah was a very minor holiday for Jewish people. The holiday celebrates the military victory of the few (the Maccabees) over the Syrian-Greeks and their leader Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BCE. There is a legend of a small amount of holy oil lasting eight times its usual, lasting long enough to allow a new batch to be produced before it ran out. Hanukkah means “dedication” and represents the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The holiday was celebrated by Jesus (John 10.22ff). But throughout history, Hanukkah was fairly insignificant. Only since Santa Claus got his red suit (thanks Coca Cola) did both holidays rise in public notice and capitalistic urges.
Behind the spending is a vacuous desire for meaning. If I spend enough for my wife, she will find pleasure. If I buy that game for my child, she will appreciate me and it will be a meaningful Christmas for her. The rants of “not enough” are embarrassing when overheard by neighbours or at the toy stores. The search for appreciation is often unmet at holiday times.
I believe that this is accentuated during Hanukkah (this year 7-15 December) as Jewish people traditionally give a present each day to their children over the 8 nights. Back in the 1800s the presents would have been very small, even as many Aussies will remember only an orange in their stocking on Christmas. But those times are long past.
However the desire for meaning is not past. This season, as people march to the mall, this longing actually increases. That’s why I believe this is a crucial time to share what we believe with people, especially Jewish people. For them at this time, family times are most significant. The problem is families continue to splinter and are harder to maintain. So the longing for meaning and relationships is increasing as other options weaken.
“What!” you say. “How am I supposed to add one more duty/activity to my already frenetic schedule during this time?” Or as one person was bothered and wrote me, “You want me to talk to Mr. Goldberg….about Jesus? And during Christmas?”
The short answer is yes, even as the financial folks often remind us to buy stocks and shares when they are lowly valued. Sociologists remind us, “If you want to get a job done, ask a busy person.” So during this season of our own frenzy, I’m hopeful to give you yet one more assignment. Let’s consider how to get this done.
The most obvious and first thing to put on your Action List is to pray for Mr Goldberg (or Mrs Cohen or Dr Schwartz or…) for them to find real meaning this Hanukkah in Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus). Pray daily as you pray for others to discover eternity in Messiah. Next and I think equally obvious is to send them a greeting card and by send I mean in the post! The abundance of emails and Facebook messages are so ubiquitous that they almost devalue. But a letter in the postbox is so unusual in these days that they stand out that much more.
Gospel literature abounds for Jewish people. In our book shop in Bondi Junction (all products are online at www.jewsforjesus.org.au/catalog) you could find a gift of a book, Hanukkah menorah (and/or commensurate box of 44 candles), fragrant anointing oil, CD of music or DVD… almost anything you send them will be very appreciated. A fruit basket or flower arrangement is a nice touch if they are welcoming family to their places, too. But remember, their meaning (and yours) is not wrapped up in a present, but in the Gospel of Messiah Yeshua. That said, don’t send a Bible to your Jewish mate.
How then do I bring up the topic of Jesus? I think the best way to speak with Jewish people is to speak from the position of mateship. Usually friends can speak to friends on a different level than others. Purpose therefore to speak to your friend in a direct manner. Don’t dance around the issue; be direct. Jewish people like direct approaches. But use questions, not answers, to guide the conversation. Something like, “Who do you think Jesus is?” or “Will you be celebrating Hanukkah this year? Did you know Jesus celebrated that also?”
The natural conversation which follows will allow you to share what you believe depending on what they answer. Keep praying. Keep witnessing, after all, Jesus didn’t say “Go into all the world and live your life nicely in front of people so they will ask you questions.” He said to go and proclaim. He will use your style, your language, your capacity… and your prayers and courage. And now is a great time of year to give it a go. God lead you well.