Psalm 23: Thou (You oh Lord)
Have set in order arrayed, went to battle, prepared, arranged
Like wood on an altar
Like showbread, like loaves, like candlesticks on a holy table
It may just be me but this stirs my heart today. Sabbath or Shabbat is closing at sundown but tonight, tonight is a night unlike any other – it is Hanukkah, that beloved tradition of the Jewish people that celebrates that God is light. At sunset this night, the holiday of lights begins and the candles will be relit. The sun may go down but the lights will go up. It is the annual holiday that reminds us that out of darkness God created the world and the sun and threw the stars in the sky. It celebrates the event when He provided oil for the lamps so the people could see the Torah. Hanukkah means to “Rededicate oneself to the Lord”. Can you hear the praises still ringing from generations of God fearers that worship Jehovah, that count on the faithfulness of G-d? It is also called the festival of lights. For the newbie to all of this – it would be comparable to a huge miraculous praise report celebrated like Christmas for 8 solid nights of fun, festivities and yes chocolate! But wait, is it in the Bible? Yes in John 10:22. They call it there the feast of dedication. They light the candle in the middle – the helper or servant candle and by it all others get their light. The first prayer on that first night is:
Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights. Commanded? What manner of God is this that He commands His people to celebrate and rejoice with food and song for eight solid nights? Woo-hoo!
The fun part I love is that in the middle of these candles is a 9th one called the Shamash, the tallest one, servant candle and it lights all the others so that they can shine. (I think of Toby Mac and Hollyn singing light shine bright here). Whoever would dare to dream that the God who created humans would like to party and fellowship with them for eight full days? Well, people who know Him. Our little boy first asked Jesus in his heart on this special holiday years ago. When he realized that tonight was THAT night, his first reaction was, “yea, we get soda and candy!” While I hope he understands the mighty God who delivered His people and the implications of that for Jew and Gentile, I’m glad he connects fun, joy and sweetness with religion. What, a God who wants to be with ME, enjoy ME? Yes.
Don’t we forget what the table is for? Is it just food and enjoyment or celebration and delight? The Christian Advent also just happens to start today and some lit the advent candle this morning in their churches. Big purple and one pink candles in a circle with lots of symbolism. All these traditions! Kids see lights, hear songs and sometimes there are great church casseroles.
There was one man who got fed up with all the traditions, hoopla and commercialization of this event. He had turned 53 and wanted his grandkids to know that there were deeper meanings to all the festivities. A good look in the mirror and some reflection caused him to write a story against all the “trappings” and to focus on the greater message. He made himself the main character and also like David, talked about the “table”. He wanted to assert that holidays should be about hospitality, love and yes, a growing warm, big heart. His name was Theodore and his book about Whoville, roast beast and the whobilation feast, won many awards. The Grinch became a classic and his grandchildren would come to love the holiday for family and love rather than the symbols and rules. You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch, was actually the heart cry of a grandpa who started out viewing his own heart, his own sin. Dr.Seuss had a “rededication” so to speak.
As a child I celebrated Advent but only remembered its purpose as the day when I stood in front of the church and read stuff and the adults held their breath that we would not burn ourselves or the church down. I made no connection with a holiday really. As an adult the Pentecostal and non-denominational churches somehow were progressive so much that we thought we did not need such man made traditions so it was not celebrated. It’s precious meaning was long forgotten, i.e. not remembered. Then later I studied the Jewish holidays which held special meaning to me and my family. Tonight, we watched the whobilation, revisited advent –all on the first day of Hanukkah. In the midst of this oddity, we reminded ourselves about the shamash candle. We will light the first advent candle that symbolizes the preparation for the SECOND COMING OF CHRIST! We are collectively longing for that day. How powerful is that? Whole congregations awaiting and preparing for Jesus!
I kind of feel like Renae Lou Who because all of these events, traditions and symbols are overwhelming– but when I focus on loving God and my family – I can do that. Joe and the boys and I want to remember the God who created the Heavens and His constant provision and sustaining power so we will light a candle to remember that. We want to anticipate the second coming of Christ and prepare our hearts to make room for Him so we will light a candle and remember that-while we posture our hearts for His presence. When our fireplace tripped a breaker and we sat in the dark for a few minutes the message of light breaking thru darkness became very real.
David, had a sense of all of this perhaps. Did this worshipping King understand the table that fed him and the one to come? The table God was preparing was for Him, musician, saint and sinner. He knew that the preparations and provisions of this mighty God were not just for or about religion but were for and about him, David. Not only had God gone thru a lot of trouble to do this but this table was before Gods panayim (Hebrew) – His Face. I wonder if he heard, “David, I’ve got my eyes on you. David I go to battle for you so you can go to battle for me. David, the holy place is not a building made with hands but will be a Bride one day that the gates of hell will not prevail against. I’m setting it, preparing it for you and those who follow me after you. Sinner and saint. The table of refreshing, community, hospitality, remembrance. David, go ahead and eat.”
The word enemy is adversary and place of distress in the Hebrew. Maybe because there is only one evil one — the rest is just puppetry. David kept going because He was properly provided for in that battle, he had a table and he had food. Theodore Geisel rightly discerned his own heart and saw the Grinch when he looked in the mirror. His accurate assessment then led to others viewing their hearts in light of the true meaning of Christmas – loving God (incarnate) and family. In the presence of my enemies means in the presence of my narrow place, my tight and difficult place, the place of evil and distraction.
In the midst of the Maccabees distress and conflict – there was a table set with bread and light. God was present with them. In the midst of the Bethlehem scene there was the bread of life and a great light shone around about them. In our pain, suffering, distress, there is a servant who has come to shine in our darkness and light others to proclaim the One true light.
Thou has prepared a table for me, before your face Lord, in the presence of my affliction and adversary. You are my water that quenches my thirst, you are the wine that restores my soul, you are the bread that gives me life and you are the One that shines light in my darkness. You battled my conflicts before I was born, You broadened my narrow places before I was born again, you kept me before your face even when I was isolated from any hope of joy and give me deep hope within.
The next eight days… You may not be vulnerable and transparent like 53 year old Theodore and want to avoid all roast beast. But, what if you began to open your heart just a little bit more to include the Father? What if your heart just got a little bit more warm and started to grow? What if you lit a candle of remembrance and trusted that God would be with you now, in this moment, in the midst of your battle places? What if you positioned your face to the Heavens and declared, “O come, O come Emmanuel – and ransom captive Israel? What if you kicked up your heels and did a little jig, a praise dance and thanked Him for all the previous times you were delivered, set free? There is a table of provision and blessing laid out for you thru history – there is also a table that awaits you in Eternity – in spite of what your enemies are saying tonight. There is joy and a feast no matter what your adversaries are planning. God planned a baby to deliver, a light to shine, a savior to resurrect, a meal of remembrance to connect.
The original Grinch animated movie used the theme song and the voice of Tony the Tiger from Kelloggs cereal sang it, you know the one that says, “They’re greeeeaaaat!”. Whether you set out Hanukkah candles, breakfast candles, whobilation or advent candles is not the focus. Isaiah said, the people living in darkness have seen a great light. God, knowing your situation, your conflict has laid all the blessings of the table before you, now, in the presence of your anxiety and distress. In the hard place, the narrow place, now the table is set. You can celebrate now. You can refresh and remember now – before the victory is won –because it is finished. Will you wait for Him? Call out to Him? Remember Him? Sup and dine with Him? He has prepared a place and table for YOU, He is waiting for YOU! O Come, O come, Emmanuel…..
Ps. By accident we are having roast beef tonight, the boys are baking cookies for the neighbors and Joe just brought home a dozen roses for the table. God still sets tables, we now await for Him to join us at ours and pray for Him to join you at yours. Happy Hanukkah, Joyful advent and hilarious whobilation – rededicate and wait, you won’t be disappointed.