Happy Hanukkah! Jesus never heard of Santa Claus, but he celebrated the Festival of Dedication (John 10:22), which is what Hanukkah means. When a brutal Syrian dictator persecuted the Jews and tried to forbid them from worshipping One God and keeping his Law in the traditional way, they finally fought back. One of the shock and awe weapons Antiochus’s army used was the elephant. But one of the freedom fighters, at the cost of his own life, ran underneath one of the beasts of burden and rammed a spear into his belly, making the soldiers vulnerable.
The Maccabean freedom fighters won against great odds. But that is not the miracle Hanukkah celebrates. After the enemy army was driven off, they needed to rededicate the temple, which Antiochus the mad man had desecrated. And they needed pure oil to light the lamps for the ceremonies. Antiochus had made sure he had defiled all the oil in Jerusalem–except that someone had stashed away a small jar, enough for one day.
They lit the lamp and sent a runner to buy more. The round trip took eight days, but “a great miracle happened there!” The small supply of oil lasted eight days until the new supply came.
Sonja and I have seen some small miracles in the last few weeks.
But do you ever wonder why God does small miracles but we don’t often see the big ones?
Miracles are signs, not to convince unbelievers, but gentle reminders to the faithful.
When God put humans in charge of the earth, evidently, he was serious about it. He does not intervene in big ways very often–maybe a few significant times. How can you believe in God when you see the suffering in Syria, Sudan, a dozen other places?
God didn’t start those wars. War is man’s business. It is man who starts it and it is up to man–sorry about the gendered pronouns, but in the history of the world the aggressor is usually male–to end it. We won’t negotiate to prevent a war; that would be weakness. But after thousand or millions on both sides are dead, after there is nothing left to fight for, the old men sit down to negotiate an “honorable peace.”
The Maccabees had to fight their own war, which was a brilliant success; then they had to govern, which was much more difficult. But none of that is the miracle Hanukkah celebrates. It is the small miracle of light.
God does not intervene often in our world. He is already there; he is present everywhere. He is present in the cries of the children of Syria. He is present in the prayers and the contributions and the good works of people of good will. Those who believe in him and call ourselves his followers (and maybe some others who don’t think of themselves in those terms) are his hands and feet, eyes, ears, and heart in the world. For them God does small miracles as signs that their work is not in vain.