My dear Jewish friend 13: Shining lights of hope beyond Chanukah and Christmas

I sighed as I looked at the Chanukah decorations on our Christian Christmas tree. A few days earlier I had carefully placed a porcelain dreidel and festive window with a brightly lit Chanukiah in the center of our Christmas tree.

It was the eve of Christmas day and our two holiday seasons, Chanukah and Christmas, share one festive day, my thoughts had you on my mind. I vividly remember one Chanukah evening I was invited to speak about my family´s history, which represents like so many that of broken German history and more so the responsibility for present and future.

But now it was time to dim the light on this beautiful small window and our electric Chanukiah, which has accompanied us through your beautiful festival of lights. The lights of your beautiful festival might have been dimmed and those of Christmas will seize in a few days as well, but there is a light beyond that shines through us into this world.

A beautiful poem of Philip M. Raskin reminds us that the light will continue to shine:

The Rabbi tells his old, old tale,
     The pupils seated round.
“…And thus, my boys, no holy oil
     In the Temple could be found.

The heathens left no oil to light
     The Lord’s eternal lamp;
At last one jar, one single jar,
     Was found with the high priest’s stamp.

Its oil could only last one day—
     But God hath wondrous ways;
For lo! a miracle occurred:
     It burned for eight whole days.”

The tale was ended, but the boys,
     All open-eyed and dumb,
Sat listening still, as though aware
     Of stranger things to come.

Just wait, my boys, permit me, pray,
     The liberty to take;
Your Rabbi—may he pardon me—
     Has made a slight mistake.

Not eight days, but two thousand years
     That jar of oil did last,
To quell its wondrous flames availed
     No storm, no flood, no blast.

But this is not yet all, my boys:
     The miracle just starts.
This flame is kindling light and hope
     In countless gloomy hearts.

And in our long and starless night,
     Lest we should go astray,
It beacon-like sheds floods of light,
     And eastwards points the way,

Where light will shine on Zion’s hill,
     As in the days of old.
The miracle is greater, boys,
     Than what your Rabbi told

Philip M. Raskin – 1880-1944

As we as a Christian family are emerging ourselves into twelve days of the Christian festive season I know from our friendship that there is a light shining in both of us. A light of joy for the better, which we try to bring into our broken world large or small. May it kindle light and hope in countless gloomy hearts, which struggle.

Love from Bamberg on Christmas to my Jewish friend.

Wenn das Lied der Engel verstummt…

Wehmütig betrachtete ich unsere Krippe. Wie in unserer Familie üblich, würde die Weihnachtsdekoration am Nachmittag des Epiphaniasfestes wieder für viele Monate in Boxen verstaut und dort auf das nächste Geburtsfest Jesu Christi warten. Ich seufzte und löschte das Licht des kleinen Herrnhuter Sterns, der neben einem prächtigen Engel den Hirten geschienen und ihre Arbeit in der sonst finsteren Umgebung erhellt hatte.

Was blieb damals als das Lied der Engel verstummt und der Stern der Weihnacht erloschen war? Mein Blick schweifte weiter über die noch hell erleuchtete Krippe und blieb am kleinen, neugeborenen Kind hängen. Als Mutter von vier Kindern wusste ich sehr genau, dass mit der Geburt die Arbeit noch nicht vorbei war. Im Gegenteil: Sie begann dann erst recht mit der Sorge um ein Kind, das Gott uns anvertraut hatte.

Der US-amerikanische afro-amerikanische Theologe Howard Thurman fasste die Arbeit, die uns mit dem Christfest als Gläubige aufgetragen worden war, in seinem Gedicht „The Work of Christmas“ in sehr treffliche Worte:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations, p. 28.

Als Christinnen und Christen beginnt für uns mit dem Abklingen des Weihnachtsfestes die Arbeit für die uns Gott vorgesehen hat – nämlich sein Friedensreich in dieser Welt immer ein Stückchen mehr Realität werden zu lassen durch unsere Handlungen, Worte, große und kleine Gesten. Nach einer festlichen Zeit können wir nun gestärkt und ermutigt ans Werk gehen.

Packen wir es an! Es gibt viel zu tun!