Service Title: Winter Offensive: Chanukah – Light in Dark Days
Speaker: Dan Jones, Put People First! PA
Scripture: Isaiah 66

The Winter Offensive continued this week with a special service from The Freedom Shul of the Poor, as we celebrated the first night of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights in dark days, and we rededicated ourselves to the God that makes a way out of no way.

Dan Jones, Put People First! PA:

Chanukah comes from the Hebrew word for “dedication.” It’s celebrated in remembrance of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The rededication of the Temple to God and God’s service after it was desecrated by the empire of Antiochus.

This reading today comes from the time of an earlier Temple dedication: It’s context is the re-building of a Jewish community in Palestine under the thumb of the Persian empire; and in particular the rebuilding of the Temple as the center of that community’s moral, spiritual, and also economic and political life. It’s written on the occasion of the construction of the 2nd Temple, the same one desecrated by Antiochus’ army and restored through the insurrection led by the Hasmoneans of the Maccabees.

Now what does God say through those writing in the name and the tradition of Isaiah? What warning does God give about the use and misuse of this rebuilt, this newly dedicated Temple? About what dedication to God really means?

God says, first of all, do not try to contain me in this house. The whole world is mine. God made it all. Don’t claim to worship me here and ignore me in the rest of your business. God says that I am with the poor and the brokenhearted, wherever they are. That’s who my eye is on. It’s a message, a warning, to those who would try to limit morality to the spiritual or keep it within the confines of churches and temples and ignore the morality of budgets, of economics and public policies and public protest. 

God says don’t try to cover up your violence—your evictions, your denial of health care, your denial of living wages and voting rights—don’t try to cover it up with pomp and circumstance and rituals and lip-service. The prophet describes all of these different kinds of holy sacrifices and says that, if you will claim that this is what it means to serve God while at the same time you grind the poor into dust, then you are not sanctifying my name, you aren’t worshipping me, but you are actually defiling my holy place.

God says, If I call out – If I call out through the poor, the sick, the despised, the homeless – and you refuse to listen to me, then keep my name out of your mouth.

And there’s a long tradition of this message to religious hypocrites, to the chaplains of the empire, to those who would bless evil and condemn what’s good.

Amos 5:

“I hate, I despise your feasts!
I cannot stand the stench of your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer Me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
for your peace offerings of fattened cattle
I will have no regard.
Take away from Me the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Micah 6:

“With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”

These are such famous passages, especially the ends of them. And what they are is a warning against the false piety that uses religion and ritual and the name of God, which is the name of peace, to deny injustice, to cover it up, to offer false solutions, to ignore the cries of the brokenhearted.

And God speaks to the poor and the broken hearted. God says that I know your brothers have hated you, I know that they have treated you as though you are the problem, as though you are dirty, that they have excluded you and that they’ve done it in my name. And then they have said to you: “Praise God! Give glory to God and you’ll be happy. Give glory to God and let us see you smile!”

But don’t worry, we’re told. Those who tried to shame you will themselves be shamed. From the same temple they thought was meant to contain the God of justice and peace, the temple they defiled by their lip service and by calling the poor unclean, there comes a shout and a tumult. Injustice is overthrown. Everything the powerful dread comes true.

I think this is a message we can use today, and especially in this season. It’s the message of the winter offensive of the poor and dispossessed. We see clearly that this season of token sacrifices and charity from the powerful is meant to cover up for the fact that the same people treating the poor as a charity case treat them like a criminal case. We see clearly that this season of pity is really about maintaining a permanent situation of powerlessness for the poor and broken hearted. We see clearly and God sees clearly that many of those shouting the loudest about glory to God and being grateful for what we have and putting Christ in Christmas are the quietest about the daily violence against the poor. They defile God’s holy place and God’s holy times with their false piety.

So if Chanukah means dedication we should think carefully on what that dedication is to. About the true meaning and significance of the Temple who’s restoration we celebrate. Not a temple to narrow nationalism, not a temple to exclude and despise the poor. Not a temple to try and keep God bottled up. Not a temple to empty ritual and token sacrifice. But dedication to be the source of a great noise and tumult. A dedication to being a source of dread to the powerful and comfort to the afflicted. I think that’s the temple we restore and rededicate on Chanukah, where the flame never expires.

Watch the full service from November 28, 2021 here. Join the Freedom Church of the Poor this Sunday at 6pmET/5pmCT/3pmPT and La Iglesia del Pueblo at 7:30pmET/6:30pmCT/4:30pmPT on the Kairos Center Facebook page.

This season, Freedom Church of the Poor has released an Advent study series built off of several entries from the We Cry Justice devotional. We hope it will be used to reinforce the Winter Offensive and engage communities, especially as we mobilize for a Mass Poor People’s and Low Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington, June 18th, 2022.