I was recently asked by a newspaper reporter how Messianic Jews celebrate Chanukah. In one sense it’s a curious question because there are many different branches of Judaism and rarely would any individual branch be asked that type of question. On the other hand, since Messianic Judaism is a relatively new phenomenon (40 years in the making) and it’s a controversial movement, especially within Judaism, the question is understandable. The short answer is, by and large, we celebrate Chanukah in the same manner and for the same reasons that other Jews celebrate it. The festival remembers the retaking and cleansing of the 2nd Temple in 165 BCE from the Greeks. As tradition explains, after the retaking of the Temple, only a small cruse of oil was found to maintain the eternal light, but miraculously it lasted for eight days until a new batch was concocted. Consequently, a special eight candled menorah (chanukiah) was designed to remember the eight days the oil lasted. More importantly, the original event marks another unsuccessful attempt to stamp out the Jewish people and their practices.
Yet, Messianic Jews do celebrate the days somewhat differently. Remember, Yeshua (Jesus) was Jewish, and he celebrated all of the Jewish holidays, including Chanukah (John 10:22). In fact, Yeshua often connected the various festivals to himself. Therefore, when Messianic Jews celebrate the holidays we typically point out Yeshua’s relationship to the particular holiday. In this case, we use the practice of lighting the Chanukah candles to emphasize Yeshua’s role in our lives. Traditionally, one takes the candle that is segregated from the others, called the Shamash or servant candle, lights it first and then uses it to light the others. We do the same, but we also suggest that Yeshua is the Shamash candle, which is lit first. Then he lights the other candles, so the candles not only represent each of the days of Chanukah but they also represent us. So, in a sense, Yeshua lights us in order for us to be lights to the world, as he commanded.