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First, the merriest of Christmases to the 33 men who spent two months trapped in a Chilean mine earlier this year. Your faith and prayers throughout everything inspired nations.

When you came up in October—two months before many observers expected you to see sunlight—we joined countless others, including your families, in saying, "Gracias, Señor. It is a miracle from God."

Was it, though? The families of the 37 miners killed a few days later in a Chinese coal mine might ask that question fairly. There was nothing baldly supernatural about the rescue in Chile. Improbable, maybe. But shouldn't we pay tribute instead to the courage and perseverance of the miners themselves, the skill and ingenuity of the rescue operation—and the sheer dumb luck that they didn't die on day one?

This brings to mind a story that people tell around this time of year, of a miracle God brought about in Israel long ago. No, not that one. The other one.

One holiday season, Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah (John 10:22). For well over a century, Jews had commemorated the rededication of the temple after Judas Maccabeus led a revolt that took Jerusalem back from the pagan Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes. In Jesus' time, of course, the pagan Roman ruler Tiberius Caesar was the more immediate concern. Many wanted Jesus to tell them plainly if he was the one who would restore Israel's kingdom.

A fair request, perhaps. But Jesus wouldn't do it. His words and works, he insisted, speak for themselves for those who have ears to hear. In this, he wasn't too different from the God of Hanukkah.

A common Hebrew Hanukkah saying is nes gadol haya sham ("a great miracle happened there"). But nothing in the Maccabean revolt ...

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December 2010

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