True, there aren't many people in the world who celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas.
But as a person of Jewish heritage on my father's side, and as a follower of Jesus the Messiah, I am one of them.
This year actually marks the third Hanukkah and Christmas season that I've had the joy and opportunity to celebrate both holidays as an Israeli citizen. And I must tell you I find it fascinating to live in a country where Jesus was actually born, where He ministered to the poor and forgotten, where He was crucified and raised on the third day -- and yet a country where by and large Christmas is not celebrated.
Israel is not an easy place to live. It's been quite challenging for Lynn and our four sons and I to move to a new country and acclimate to a new language and culture. But as these two holidays converge this year, and as I reflect on the past few years, I am profoundly thankful and grateful.
Here are a few reasons why:
I'm thankful for the amazing opportunity the Lord has given Lynn and me to be able to live and raise our family and write novels in the land where the Hebrew prophets, priests and kings lived, the very land where Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) and His disciples lived and ministered and transformed the world.
I'm thankful for the wonderful friends and neighbors that we have found in Israel, along with physical safety, economic opportunity, robust democracy and extraordinary religious freedom we have found there. Most Jews in Israel -- and nearly every Jewish person in the government and in the court system -- don't believe what we believe, and yet they truly defend our right to assemble and worship and fully practice our beliefs without interference. That's no small thing.
I'm so thankful to live in the world's only Jewish State that also works hard to protect the political and religious freedoms of her Arab citizens -- Christians, Muslims, agnostics, atheists and others -- and grants Arab citizens the right to vote, has Arabs who serve in the Knesset, serve in the police and military, even serve on the Supreme Court, and are vital and valued members of the society.
I'm thankful to be able to live in a nation that is an oasis of freedom and security in a region that's on fire.
I'm thankful for all the Evangelical and Messianic Jews we have met and had the joy of becoming friends with throughout the Land, including so many pastors and ministry leaders and their wives and kids.
I'm thankful for all the dear Palestinians that Lynn and I have had the honor of meeting and befriending in recent years, especially the Evangelical pastors and ministry leaders and their wives and children living in the West Bank and in Gaza.
I'm very thankful for the opportunity to travel to visit our neighbors in Jordan not once but twice this year, including five extraordinary and special days with King Abdullah II and his advisors, such an amazing visit that Lynn and I will always cherish.
I'm deeply thankful for our Joshua Fund team who are so faithful in blessing Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus, according to Genesis 12:1-3.
I'm thankful for the Holy Scriptures -- the very words of the living God -- whom the Jewish and Christian scribes have so carefully and courageously copied and transmitted to us down through the ages.
I'm thankful for the ancient Hebrew prophets like Micah who told us exactly where the Messiah would one day be born so we wouldn't have to wonder or worry about it. "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” (Micah 5:2)
I'm thankful for the ancient Hebrew prophets like Isaiah who told us the Messiah would live and minister in the Galilee region, bring light to those in darkness, come as a human baby boy, but also be El Gibor -- Mighty God -- and the One who would bring forgiveness and thus peace between us and God. "In earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles....The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them....For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:1-6)
I'm deeply thankful for all of our family and friends back in the States who have prayed for us, encouraged us, and even come to visit us in Israel over the past few years -- and so grateful that we could come back to spend the holiday season with them this year.
Above us, I am thankful to the God of Israel -- and His Son, Yeshua -- who has shown such mercy to me and my family, showered us with His grace and even adopted us into His royal family.
So on behalf of my family and our dear friends and colleagues at The Joshua Fund, allow me to wish our Jewish and Israeli friends a very Happy Hanukkah season -- and to all of our friends who are followers of Jesus, allow me to wish you a very Merry Christmas!