Tonight is the last of the eight nights of Hanukkah, so here's another Hanukkah poem. On the first night, I talked about the miracle by which one day's worth of consecrated olive oil burned for eight days, because the poem I chose for that day was about light. But as this poem suggests, that's not all there is to Hanukkah. It also celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, which had occupied Jerusalem and effectively outlawed the practice of Judaism for eight years. The last straw for the Jews was when Emperor Antiochus IV ordered an altar to Zeus built in the Temple. That was too much for Mattathias, a priest, and his five sons, who led a revolt against Antiochus. The Seleucids were eventually driven out of Jerusalem and the Temple rededicated. Mattathias's son Judah, who had assumed leadership of the Jews on the death of his father, declared a festival to celebrate their victory. And now you know the rest of the story.
The light of freedom burns bright and hot
at the crossroads of decision.
In the market place at Modin
Mattathias stood in the heat and the light
for only an instant.
He heard the offer of the tyrant:
silver and gold, honor and the king's friendship,
but he, in his freedom, chose another way.
Without hesitation, he chose the law of God
for himself and his family,
though it meant warfare and death.
When we sing the holiday blessings
let us ponder the solemn choices of those men
who fathered our freedom,
When we light the Hanukkah candles
let us remember the grave choices
freedom illuminates for us.
Ruth Brin (1921–2009)
Previous Advent posts:
2003: The Burning Babe
2004: La Virgen y el Niño
2005: Have a super holiday season
2006: from Bridge to Terabithia, chapter six, “The Coming of Prince Terrien”
2007: Morning in the Village after Snowstorm
2008: Christmas special music