Yearly, on Christmas Day in Washington Crossing, PA, the story of George Washington and his troops crossing the Delaware River to march to Trenton is re-enacted. The Continental Army attacked the Hessian garrison on Christmas in 1776. They overcame freezing rain, snow, ferocious winds, an ice-choked river and a long, cold march to Trenton to win the battle against the Hessians. The victory helped to bolster the sagging morale of the army so that they continued to fight the British and their allies.
One year later, the troops were in Valley Forge from December 1777 to June 1778. When they arrived, the cold and hungry troops built log huts to live in during the months to come. There is a legend that one of the soldiers at the Valley Forge encampment was a Jew who encouraged George Washington. Author Stephen Krensky was so inspired by this story that he wrote a book called Hanukkah at Valley Forge. Interestingly, in the year 1777, the first night of Hanukkah fell on Christmas Eve. The story is told that the lone Jewish soldier waited until the other soldiers were sleeping before he set up his Menorah. He lit the first candle and wept. As he was walking around the huts, George Washington saw the soldier and stopped to ask him why he was crying.
The Jewish soldier explained that he was crying out to God for the success of the troops. He had experienced persecution in his hometown in Europe and came to American to escape from it. He assured Washington that he would be victorious in his campaign because God is on the side of the righteous, just as He was with the small band of men led by the Maccabees who overtook the large Greek army. It was God who granted them a miraculous victory because of their faith in Him. This story served as an inspiration for Washington to move forward against the British. Doesn't this sound like the fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6? "I will make you a light for the Gentiles that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth."
The legend continues that the same Jewish soldier was at home in the Bronx in New York a year later. On the first night of Hanukkah, the veteran placed a Menorah in his windowsill with one candle lit. After hearing a knock at the door, he opened it to find George Washington on his front step. Washington said to him, "There is that fabulous light, the Hanukkah light! That flame and your remarkable words kindled a light in my heart on that dark and bitter night. We were in a tight situation then, and your words encouraged me so! They spurred me on with new hope. You will soon be awarded a Medal of Honor from the United States of America for your bravery in Valley Forge, but tonight you will receive a personal memento from me." The General then placed a gold medal on the table. Engraved on it was a Menorah with one candle burning. These words were inscribed on it: "As a sign of thanks for the light of your candle. George Washington."
Here we have the Jewish vet reminding Washington of the faithfulness of God. The size of the army coming against these small bands of soldiers was not important. What was and is important is the abilities of our God and His delight in helping us. Scripture talks about quite a few battles where the armies of the Israelites were so much smaller than the armies of their enemies. One example is when the Assyrian army came against King Hezekiah and his people. Here is what he told them: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him. There is greater power with us than with him." (2 Chronicles 32:7)
Tonight, Jews all over the world will be lighting the final candle on their Menorah and will remember the faithfulness of God and His miraculous power to help them re-take the temple in Jerusalem. There will always be forces of evil who attempt to defeat and discourage the people of God. But here is the truth from John 1:5. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." Our Lord still fights for us when evil attacks. Be confident in the Lord's faithfulness and His miraculous power on our behalf.
Joan E. Mathias