As most Christians throughout the world bask in the glow of Christmas on Dec. 24 and 25 this year, Jews begin their eight-day celebration of Hanukkah on the evening of Dec. 25. At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Christ in history. During Hanukkah, Jews celebrate the Festival of Lights and continue to long for the Messiah's coming. Both faith communities draw on the symbols of candles and lights that shatter the winter darkness.
Both holidays invite Christians and Jews to ask the deeper questions: How do we continue to long for the salvation that the Messiah will bring? What can we do to spread God's light around us and dispel the darkness of fear, sin and despair? The Messianic kingdom for all of us still lies ahead.
While I was a student at Jerusalem's Hebrew University years ago, I heard a story about a certain Rabbi Menahem. When the old sage lived in Israel, a wild man climbed a high mountain, unnoticed, and from the top of the mountain began to blow a trumpet over the city below.
There was a great deal of excitement among the people and a rumour quickly spread: "The trumpet is announcing our liberation!"
When the rumour came to the ears of Rabbi Menahem, he looked at the world outside his window and said gruffly, "What I see is no renewal."
At the first Christmas, there was just as little to see through the window of the world. Outside the later Gospels, only a couple of secular Roman historians of the time mention in passing the name of Jesus.
Even today, the questions arise: If Jesus is the Messiah -- the bringer of peace -- and if he really was born in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago, why is there still so much sin and suffering and turmoil in the world? Why so much terror, hatred violence and war, much of it in the name of God?
Why is there no renewal? Was the Messiah's project a failure?
The kingdom that Jesus preached was the daring vision of Israel's God of compassion, mercy, justice and righteousness -- a kingdom that involved reforming lives, adhering to the law of love, alleviating the pain and suffering of others, building community, worshipping God in Spirit and truth. There is still much work to be done to realize God's daring vision, made known to us through his only son.
Where do we begin? We start by working together as Christians and Jews to protect the most important human values, which are threatened by a world in continual transformation.
Christians and Jews have a special affinity for life and must do everything in our power to uphold the dignity of human life, from conception to natural death. We must promote the dignity of the human person.
At the core of Christian and Jewish life is the sacredness and centrality of the family. Christians and Jews must be known for our efforts in the areas of social justice, peace, and freedom for all human beings.
Christmas and Hanukkah meet this year in a providential way. As Christians and Jews, we continue to pray together to God. The Jewish "Kaddish" and the Christian "Our Father" express a common hope: "Thy kingdom come!"
We must utter this prayer more loudly and clearly in these days of darkness for so many in the world, especially for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, the Holy Lands of the Middle East that are torn apart by warfare, hatred, oppression and sadness, and for all those suffering in war, poverty, injustice.
Our common longing for the fruits of the Messianic kingdom invites us, Christians and Jews, to a knowledge of our communion and friendship with one another and a recognition of the terrible brokenness of the world.
As the late Pope John Paul II taught us so powerfully, nothing and no one can ever wrench us away any longer from that deep communion and friendship.
The "tikkun ha'olam" -- the healing of the world, its repair, restoration and redemption, including the redemption of Israel -- depends upon us, together.
Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!