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Did Judas Maccabeus ever have a silent night? It’s difficult to imagine. Known as “The Hammer,” the great Jewish leader repeatedly smashed the armies of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had forbidden Jewish worship in the second century BC.
The First Book of Maccabees recounts his epic victories over hosts of a hundred thousand men, thousands of cavalry troops, and even war elephants.
At first glance, there is little in common between these scenes of slaughter and the serenity of the first Christmas in Bethlehem. Yet the pairing is not altogether dichotomous; Judas’ acts anticipate the Christ Child with remarkable clarity.
“Now that our enemies have been crushed,” Judas says to his brothers, “let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it” (1 Macc. 4:36). Herein lies the motivation of the great warrior. He waged battles with such ferocity in order to re-establish proper worship of God. To this day, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah celebrates this rededication of the Second Temple altar to God.
Christmas, too, establishes the proper worship of God. Yet that feast to which Advent leads us marks a radical shift from the Temple orientation. We Christians do not focus on a place, but rather a person. As if to emphasize the point, the first Christmas scene of worship takes place in the silence of a simple stable, where Christ is adored by his family and devoted strangers. Later, beautiful churches arose not to distract from Christ but rather to call attention to His presence. Far more — indeed, infinitely — more important than the setting is the Person who resides there.
Our cozy corners of Earth will always be important to us, but this Gospel truth speaks hope into many a Christmas that finds us separated from our homes. With the zeal for which Judas Maccabeus honored the Temple, let us honor the Person around whom we gather this Christmas, wherever we gather.
[The Aleteia community is joining the journey of an Old Testament pilgrim each day this Advent, as they lead us to the Christ Child in this holy season. Find the daily reflections here.]