This year on November 28, Jews begin their eight-day celebration of Hanukkah at sundown. Then on Sunday, Christians begin the season of Advent, which culminates with the birth of the Savior at Christmas. During the eight day period of Hanukkah, Jews celebrate the Festival of Lights and continue to long for the Messiah's coming.
For many Christians and Jews celebrating these two seasons and feasts in the northern hempisphere, we do so during the season of winter. Both faith communities draw on the symbols of candles and lights that shatter the winter darkness.
Both holiday seasons 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, worshiping 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.
Hanukkah and Advent 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 Syria, the Holy Lands of the Middle East that are still struggling for God's justice and peace, and for all those suffering in war, poverty, famine, 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 Blessed John Paul II taught us so powerfully through his friendship with the Jewish people, nothing and no one can ever wrench us away any longer from that deep communion and friendship.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI allowed that friendship to deepen and mature in a remarkable way with his meetings with Jewish leaders during his pontificate, and his historic visits to Synagogues in Rome, Germany and New York City.
And yesterday, Pope Francis wrote beautifully about our relationship with the Jewish people in his monumental Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium":
"As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God. With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word."
"Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus' disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians."
The tikkun haolam, the healing of the world, its repair, restoration and redemption, including the redemption of Israel, depends upon us, together.
To our many Jewish friends who view our network and read this blog each week, Hag Sameach! Happy and blessed feast of lights! Let us go forward in peace! We have much good work to do together to heal a broken world and wounded humanity.
Video: Hanukkah 2012; Argentine Catholics & Jews celebrate Hanukkah & Christmas together
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's last Hannukkah in Buenos Aires
(CNS photo/Debbie Hill)