To live is to have hope and faith. I believe they are an integral part of the human condition. They are intricately intertwined and may in fact be fostered by the daily miracles in our lives.
Let us begin with the basic essential miracle — life itself. While we may understand to some degree the science of the process of conception, there is nevertheless the surrounding sense of wonder at pregnancy and birth.
As a parent holds an infant for the first time, there is amazement at the well-formed fingers and toes, at the grasp of the small hand, at the seeming awareness of now being outside of the dark womb. There is a consciousness evident from the first moment of birth. Where does that come from? Yes, it is miraculous.
At this time of year, we celebrate the birth of a very special human — a divinely inspired teacher, prophet and leader. Jesus’ birth, as all births are, was perhaps miraculous enough.
Conceived out of marriage, to a woman in humble circumstances, in a conquered and repressed society, this child succeeded beyond all possibility. He taught his elders at a tender age with wisdom beyond his years, lived a simple life as a carpenter, but developed a deep need to spread the word of love — love for God and neighbor.
He lived a life with those on the margins, accepting those who were different and not acceptable to those in society. If we were to emulate this humble man’s life, our world would be a much better place. So, we celebrate his birth as a symbol of the possibility of peace and justice. Yes, a miracle.
Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration recalling the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a victory by the Maccabees over the Syrians in 165 B.C.E. This victory was beyond all expectations, all hope — a ragtag bunch of Jewish defenders of their faith against a seasoned, well-armed army. The Maccabeen warriors had faith, a belief in doing what seemed unreasonable under the circumstances. Their faith was rewarded. A miracle.
Upon returning to Jerusalem to regain their Temple, they found it desecrated. As they cleaned and repaired the Temple so that it could be reconsecrated, they also discovered there was insufficient oil to light the menorah for the eight days necessary for the rededication ceremony. With faith and hope, they lit the lamp. It burned for eight days. A miracle.
I think that I have always looked upon the candles burning for eight days as the miracle in this story and it was truly a miracle. But just yesterday, a rabbi friend taught me about the other miracle.
If one were truly “rational,” if one did not believe in the impossible, if one did not hope and have faith that the oil was sufficient to burn for eight days when there was only enough for one day, then the Maccabees would not have lit the candle at all. The true miracle here is that they had enough faith to light the candle.
A comparative religions scholar, Huston Smith, used a metaphor in a seminar of his I attended several years ago. Consider two boxes, side by side. One contains absolute darkness; the other absolute light. He asked the question: What happens when you open one box to the other? Answer: The light suffuses the dark. This metaphor to me is about hope.
Each and every day the unexpected happens; hope happens. And in this season of darkness suffused with light, it is especially important to be grateful for the miracles in our lives.
Love is such a miracle. It is not earned, nor is it necessarily expected. It is a divine miracle in our lives. Think of the joy on a child’s face; it is sufficient cause for hope in the world. Music touches the soul in miraculous ways. Christmas carols, once banned by the Christian church as pagan in origin, move us to believe in the unlikely possibility of peace and justice in this world of ours.
I ask each of you to think of the miracles in your lives. Large or small, divinely inspired or not, our world is suffused by hope and faith and the miraculous. Have the most blessed of holidays.