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Candles, Chanukah, and Conscience: Finding God's Presence in Darkness

Candles are a beautiful reminder of God's unwavering presence. They hold a special place in our hearts, illuminating every special event with their flickering, often fragrant, glow. One single candle in the middle of an evening dinner table adds warmth and comfort and can make even the simplest morsel taste delectable.

Candlelight holds a special significance in Jewish tradition, with its warm glow filling every holiday, from Shabbat and Yom Kippur to Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Sukkot, Shavuot as well as weddings, births, and times of great sorrow. The glow envelops those around in a sense of sacredness, igniting a reminder that we are on the cusp of an utterly reverent moment.

In most synagogues, the eternal flame, known as Ner Tamid, is lit above the ark containing the Torah scrolls, symbolizing the original flame of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 24:4). The priests attended the flame evening and morning. The candlestick, oil, and wick received the utmost care. However, modern synagogues generally use electric lamps (for safety reasons).

"He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the LORD continually." Leviticus 24:4 KJV

The eight-candled Chanukiah is the central theme of Chanukah. The servant candle (shamash), the taller one in the middle, is lit. It is the source for igniting the first candle that is placed to the far right. On the second night, the shamash will light the first and second candles, and so forth. On the eighth evening, the fully lit Chanukiah shines at its highest potential and commemorates the miraculous eight nights when the oil in the Temple lasted beyond possibility.

As I reflect on a Christian candlelight ceremony I attended, the image of one candle lighting the way for countless others without diminishing its flame reminds me of the power of influence and unity. Inspiringly, each light invades an additional space of darkness, much like the Bible does to our souls. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

In scripture, a candle also represents our conscience: “For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:28 KJV). “If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light” Luke 11:36 KJV.

Adam and Eve’s conscience sprang into action when they disobeyed. It told them they could no longer stand in the presence of God without covering. Fortunately for them, God covered their nakedness—physically and spiritually. He placed a flaming sword at the garden entrance to keep them from a greater sin (Genesis 3:24).

We need God’s light in our nations and within us individually, but some choose not to believe. Their soul is dark. “The candle of the wicked shall be put out” (Proverbs 24:20).

The recent terrorists who committed unimaginable brutal rapes and murders did so in the name of their god. They went beyond smoldering candles and seared consciences to reprobates. In psychological terms, they could be classified as sadistic psychopaths. They cannot see the true and living God but are in total darkness.

The Bible warned that the world would become more hate-filled and violent in the later days.

Many things have damaged the consciences of humanity, but it all began with choosing darkness over light. We are all without excuse (Romans 1:20).

In our darkest moments, God desires to relight the flame. Nathan's “Thou art the man” was the awakening arrow to David’s heart (2 Samuel 12:7). His desperate cry to God was, “Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don't take your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51). Only God can make a stone-cold heart find its way out of darkness with the light fueled by the Holy Spirit.

Candles are never to be hidden but illuminate the way for others to follow. Simeon held Jesus in his arms and recognized the light the Father sent. No darkness can overcome Him.

“Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, ... for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:28-32).

Simeon the Godreceiver by Alexei Yegorov, 1830s–40s, Wikipedia

As we celebrate the joyous festival of Chanukah, let us remember the true essence of this special time. May the Light of the World illuminate not just our homes but also our communities. As the candles on the menorah continue to glow, may they serve as a reminder of the miracles that can happen when we come together in unity and faith. Remember: each candle we light replaces the darkness with His light. Happy Chanukah to you and your loved ones.

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