Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Messages of Chanuka, Christmas...and Tiger Woods

Happy Chanuka; Merry Christmas.

They're not at all the same, even though we're all surrounded by the vivid colors and jocular commotion of the Chrismas season.  Last Saturday night, my husband and I joined at least a thousand others walking around Seattle's Green Lake, a three-mile path that glowed every few feet on both sides with flickering luminaria. Every so often, groups of people gathered to sing carols. Not winter songs, but traditional melodies celebrating the birth of Jesus.  The temperature, about 30 degrees, hadn't varied much all week, and the lake ice splayed reflections from the lanterns on the frozen water like Crystal Craze.

Chanuka's a quieter holiday.  True, we put our menorahs (candleabras) in our family room window, where theoretically neighbors can watch the display increasing by one light each night, climaxing next Friday evening, when all eight (plus the shamash, or "helper") celebrate the triumph of Jews faithful to God over those willing to assimilate. The menorah in the window publicizes God's part in the miracles of the holiday, and shows our fidelity, saying, "count us among those who uphold God's laws." 

It's almost ironic that culturally, Christmas and Chanuka are so often linked as dual celebrations of the season. Christmas marks the materialization of the spiritual, the coming to earth in human form, of God.  Giving gifts and putting up Christmas trees and decorations (increasing "stuff") extends the idea of God's taking tangible form.

Chanuka focuses on the non-physical--flame, light--and ridding the Bait HaMikdash (Holy Temple, in 164 BCE) of man-made gods.  It celebrates the Temple's rededication to its prescribed functions, and we to the special non-spacial stratum of Jewish study and concentration we overlay on our concrete activities.

Not to imply that Jews eschew the physical (or that Christians ignore the spiritual).  The holiday of Purim affirms God's (hidden) role in physicality, and we express that by feasting and drinking and testing what we see (by wearing costumes) and hear (by twice listening to the Book of Esther).  But that's later, in March (actually the Jewish month of Adar).  Right now, as darkness seems pervasive here in the Northwest, with late dawn, cloudcover, and early night-time, we need to know that there's more than just what we're able to discern.

For Jews, Chanuka is the victory of light, of God's immaterial essence, over Hellenistic, hedonistic, touchable idols in our world.

Which of course relates to...Tiger Woods.  Some say he is a broken idol. I don't really follow such sordid stuff, an achiever, a hero, whose wholesome image is merely a veneer for betrayal, lying, adultery--the short-sighted selfishness that many call "just sex" and excuse with a shrug.

I don't think women are so charitable in their views of philandering sports stars.  Every phone call, every text message, every step through a door and unacceptable placement of his hand was a transgression.  It's not like there was one suggestive word, though that, too would be a choice.  Every single action directed toward a mistress or sex-mate was a cut in the basis of his marriage, in the trust expected by his wife, and by extension the fans and sponsors who believed not just in his talent but in his character.  It's not "just sex" but the destruction of the package that is the person.  The once-honorable person.

Back to the message of Chanuka: Don't fall for idols. Be true, be trustworthy, even though you have to forsake the immediately rewarding for long-term principles. Then, as now, it's easier to just go with the flow--to pick up the Hellenistic culture, the undemanding idols. To succumb to peer-pressure and feel-good temptations.

I know some people who love gossip and think Tiger Woods' (and any celebrity's) disgrace just lets normal folk feel better about their own lives: "The most famous and successful golfer ever, a mega-millionaire with a super-model wife blows it for some ridiculous sex--even I'm better than that."  I just find it sad.

I'd rather bundle up against the cold, light my menorah and enjoy the season.

Merry Christmas; Happy Chanuka.  And may you find bright light in your family room, too.


  1. Well said.

    On Chanuka: Thank you for the insight. I've not learned much about the Jewish holidays, though I should know more than I do. However, I love the summation, "Chanuka is the victory of light, of God's immaterial essence, over Hellenistic, hedonistic, touchable idols in our world."

    On Tiger Woods: I find the gossip and ink smeared blunders to be repulsive. It frustrates me that much of the time dedicated to "news" deviates to such stories. In no way are these imbeciles newsworthy! I cannot figure out people's fascination with, nor the desire for, stories of this nature. If they are not committing a crime (regardless of the morality of their actions), why are the news stations wasting our time? There are more newsworthy stories—hear about any controversial emails on CNN lately? Probably not, but Tiger Woods is a sleaze and you can probably name all 10(,000) of his harlots!

  2. Thank you for the post.

    I took a New Testament course last year where we studied Antiochus and the revolt led by the Maccabees. This, including the beginning of Chanuka, was one of the most interesting portions of the course.

  3. With a title like, "The Messages of Chanuka, Christmas....and Tiger Woods," I wondered where we might be going. I thought about the summation, "Don't fall for idols." When we celebrate Chanuka we are worshipping God, when we celebrate Christmas we are worshipping Jesus as God and when we worship sex we end up in a mess like Tiger Woods.

    There are lots of honorable men on the PGA circuit. Perhaps one or more of them will have an inroads to mentor Tiger and both figuratively and literally help Tiger find his way home. If I recall correctly, didn't the Kathie Lee/Frank Gifford troubles have a happy ending with Frank promising for the rest of his life to love his wife and make up for the pain he had caused her?

    By the grace of God may we all worship aright this season.

    Happy Chanuka and Merry Christmas.

  4. Perhaps the reason why we are so fascinated w/the Tiger Woods saga is because it blares so many questions many ask about their own marriage, "could it happen to me, to us?" "Why did it happen to him, why did he do it?" "With so very much discipline on the course, what the heck happened?". The good news is the fact that it is still "scandalous", even in this jaded, sin filled, sex filled culture of ours. Gather your babies and husband round your breast, thank the Lord, and pray for grace for us all.

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