Hanukkah is a celebration that commemorates the victory that restored the Temple in Jerusalem to the Hebrew people about 150 years before the time of Jesus. Part of the story is the miracle of the oil used to keep the flame representing God's presence burning in the Temple. The story resonates with me even though I travel on my spiritual journey in a different tradition. It is a story about re-claiming one's heritage and valuing the gifts we receive from those who came before us. We learn from those journeys just as those who follow us will learn from our journey. Sometimes the re-claiming is violent, as was the military battle to re-claim the Temple, but hopefully that reminds us that our struggle to re-claim our power and dignity are part of a larger struggle to to restore the same power and dignity to all people. After the battle for the Temple was over it was discovered that there was only enough oil present to keep the flame lit for one day. It would have taken eight days to go out and get more oil, but the people decided to light the flame as an act of faith. The flame miraculously continued to burn until more oil was brought to the Temple. After the struggle and the miracle the Temple was re-dedicated to God.
We struggle to re-claim the heritage of our origin in God. We celebrate by re-dedicating ourselves to our purpose and by our devotion to the truth and life within us. We are strengthened by keeping lit within us the flame of God's eternal presence.
When we celebrate the birth of Jesus we celebrate the light that is in every birth, the potential and the opportunity to change the world that is born with every child.
"What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (NRSV John 1:3b-5)
When we understand who he is we can also understand who we are.
"But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God." (NRSV John 1:12-13)
We have a choice to make in how we see someone like Jesus. There are those who would make Jesus an ordinary human being and he did express very human qualities. Then there are those, like the writers of the gospels in the New Testament, who can only see Jesus as apart from themselves, as someone different and divine. I understand Jesus from a "both and" perspective. He is human like us, and our essence is divine, just as his essence was and is divine. When we see him as human that does not pull him down and make him ordinary. And when we understand that our divine essence is the same as his, we can understand our potential and our responsibility as human beings.
On our spiritual journey we learn to develop and trust our own ability to discern the truth. When Jesus spoke to the people that came out to see him he did not have the New Testament to quote. Some of them may have heard the Torah and the Prophets read from scrolls in a synagogue or in the Temple, but many of them could not read or write even if they were fortunate enough to possess a copy of the scrolls. When Jesus spoke he had to express his truth to them in a way that they could confirm in their own hearts and minds that what he said was true.
I believe we are called to do the same thing today. When we hear the words of Moses, of the Prophets, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, the Dali Lama, or one of the many spiritual teachers in the world, our work is to listen carefully and then, using our hearts and minds, apply the wisdom we understand to our life. In order for something to be meaningful to us it must resonate deep within us, as if it is a part our being, and then we must apply it in our lives so that we come to know the fullest expression of the truth.
Life extends an invitation to us in every moment. We can see what is special and unique in the moment, or we can dismiss the present moment as ordinary. When we accept the invitation, we open the door to the power and potential of a new birth. When we recognize the value of every person we meet we discover in them the same light that exists within us, the same life and light that enlightens every human being. We sometimes have to struggle to claim our spiritual heritage and we have to re-dedicate ourselves just as the re-dedication of the Temple signified the special relationship between God and all of God's people. The eternal flame representing the eternal presence of God in the Temple corresponds to the eternal presence of God within us and surrounding us.
Further thoughts: The eternal flame that was kept lighted in the Temple in Jerusalem signified God's presence and the birth of Jesus was described as the life and light that enlightens every human being in the Gospel of John. Other traditions describe the life within us as a "divine spark," (Hinduism) and some tell us that our that our essence is like clear light (Buddhism and Zen). The celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas occur near the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, in the northern hemisphere. The structures at Stonehenge and Machu Picchu are also aligned with the sun at the Winter Solstice.
Human beings have intuitively understood the depth of our connection to light and have found ways to express this connection in a variety of meaningful ways. We have added to our ancient intuitive knowledge by discovering how the phenomena of light can be used to understand physics and quantum mechanics. The speed of light is part of the equations of mass and energy formulated by Albert Einstein and it is used to theorize about our relationship to time and time travel. Light is very unique in that it has the properties of both particles and waves. These discoveries have led to further research and the conclusion of some physicists that matter, at its most fundamental level, is an expression of consciousness! Perhaps we are approaching a time when science and theology will have a similar understanding of the Universe. As many mystics have expressed, perhaps the human being is the true mirror of the physical universe and everything outside of us can be discovered within.