Even a silly Protestant girl like me knows enough about Hanukkah to know that the above picture is incorrect for this early on in the holiday. Notice how far down all the candles are; this is more appropriate for the final night of celebration. I chose this menorah, though, because of its vintage, old-time look, not for its accuracy. If you examine the picture closely, you'll see the old rabbit-eared TV in the background, too. It's a good illustration for a reading that makes me think about how we mark our important memories.
Hanukkah marks an important memory for Jewish believers, that of the Maccabees taking back the temple in Jerusalem. They found the holy accoutrements of worship vandalized or stolen, but they did receive the miracle of light: one night's supply of oil lit the lamps for eight nights. The reason why this is important to all
people whether Jewish or not is a matter of communal hope in our future as well as our common need for enlightenment.
Equally important is an acknowledgement that all people have the need to mark significant memories as a part of passing their stories along. But we might underestimate the importance of reminding ourselves of our stories periodically. How many times, as you were pulling out the old wreath or box of garland, did you wonder how old something is? My husband has told me each year that a bundle of garland is "a decade" old. By now the decade is fifteen years long. But since he marks it from the time his daughter was in the fifth grade, it means time is frozen for her and him.
Family photograph albums and scrapbooks have the same effect. We laugh at an old picture and say, "that was the summer Jerry and Judy's boat sank" or "that was the Christmas before Uncle Jack passed." We find touchpoints in these things. I think of the year I had pneumonia and my long recovery every time I unpack my Advent candle holder. I still think of the Christmas dinner of scrambled eggs and my 18-year-old son taking me to the doctor.
This reading is one that helps us think about how we place Jesus in history. The writer gives us a context, which gives us something for our imaginations to hang our story on. Who was the emperor? What does it tell us about the world and its conditions at the time?
For people who had every reason to pay attention to words of prophecy, this writing was like Luke saying, "Remember when Isaiah told us that this, this, and this was going to happen? Well, this John fellow was the guy in the wilderness. He came during Herod's administration." Both Gentiles and Jews were given touchpoints they could relate to in the story.
So imagine you're sitting around after dinner with some friends, swapping memories. Picture one of you relating this as if it were a well-loved anecdote of some bit of history that you all share from your formative years, or maybe from your parents' generation. Read it through and imagine how it would've sounded to hearers of its own era...
Gospel Luke 3:1-6
1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
Now answer this question: If this were now, today-who would you pass this along to? Would you telephone, put it on Facebook, or maybe Tweet it? Would you have anyone younger that should hear this important story and keep it alive?
I invite you to find a way to share this memory with someone. And Happy Hanukkah!