John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

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Advent 2009: Festival of Lights

I'm posting this a little later than usual today, at 10:51 AM Eastern Standard Time. Why that time in particular? Because 10:51 EST is 15:51 Coordinated Universal Time, and 15:51 UTC is, in Greenwich, sundown. Which means this precise moment in time is the start of what I have decided to call Greenwich Mean Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that celebrates a miracle: God caused one day's worth of consecrated olive oil to burn for eight days, long enough for the Temple elders to press more oil and perform the lengthy ritual necessary to consecrate it. I'm probably thinking about this in the wrong way, but it occurs to me that this was a rather roundabout way for God to approach the problem. I mean, when the hosts of the wedding in Cana ran out of wine, Jesus didn't miraculously cause the wine shop to stay open later than usual so the servants could run out and buy a few more bottles; he just changed some water into wine. So why didn't God just create some oil for them? That's what I would have done.

Anyway, Happy Hanukkah! Please enjoy this poem by the great Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi. This is, by the way, the second-oldest poem I'll be featuring during this holiday season, if anyone cares.

Festival of Lights

Always through your light, bright Lord,   do we see light.

   Hope — pointing the way for the people
   Throughout the night, how long will its beam shine
   and sin follow it?
Oh may it be crowned with light,      like fire and light!

   Encircle the bare head with sacred ornament,
   The torn robe — replace it
   With priestly robes, allow the seed of the first light
To blossom anew, as in "let there be light"      and there was light.

   May your sign strengthen shaking knees,
   Let the angel precede them,
   And may soon the day dawn
When salvation envelops the pious and humiliation those      who
                                                                   despise the light!

   He who, as a servant, yearns for shade,
   Surround him with the light of Your salvation,
   And call to him: "Where there is dark,
How long will you remain there? Come, be cheerful!      There was

   "Grace, grace" — exclaim! Make palm trees
   Grow in rows of two, so that
   In the Temple the oil will flow,
To light lights for Him, who is bright,      to His glory!

Yehuda Halevi (ca. 1075–1141)
Translated by Thomas Kovach, Eva Jospe, and Gilya Gerder Schmidt

Previous Advent posts:

2003: A Cradle Song
2004: Madonna and Child
2005: With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness
2006: Our Christmas Tree
2007: Benediction veil
2008: Fairytale of New York

Previous Hanukkah posts:

2004: Hanukkah Menorah
2005: Happy Chanukah!
2006: Rock of Ages
2007: Hanukkah Menorah
2008: Happy Hanukkah

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