As my faith deepens I learn more and want to go deeper. It wasn’t until recently that I understood the reason for Advent and it’s penetential nature. As I’m thinking about why we should fast during this time, I thought I’d share some ideas that suit the season.
Let me be clear, I’m not a Saint (yet, but I’m waiting in hope) and this is a path I’m just starting down myself. Some of these things expressed I seriously need to work on, so any prayers you want to put my way are gratefully received!
Why You Should Fast
It focuses your mind on what we are now waiting for; Christ’s second coming. It can be so easy to focus on God intervening in time in the past and in our lives now that we forget that He will come again. When He does will we recognise Him? A huge number of the Israelites didn’t. Even those who were religious weren’t prepared – and the only way to be prepared is to focus on God’s spirit.
It is easy to think that it won’t happen soon – after all as a Christian community we’ve been waiting a long time. But we don’t know the hour and, even if it’s not in our time, we want to prepare our children as it may be in their’s, or our grandchildrens’, or our great grandchildrens’; we have a responsibility to pass on the faith as others did for us. To till the fields so when the next harvest comes they’re ready.
It reminds us that when Jesus came He who is God chose to have no status. Jesus could have been born into the cast of priests, giving Him automatic authority. He could have been born into wealth, giving Him power. Yet He wasn’t.
This is a particularly important point that we should meditate on when we consider our position as Christians in the West at the moment. Christianity is receding, it’s status reduced, its precepts maligned even in the Church itself. This can cause us such fear – we can be too afraid even to speak the Truth.
However not only have other Christians faced this, and far, far worse, throughout time and currently throughout the world, Jesus did. He lived in an occupied state. Judaism was seen as one of many religions. Jews were persecuted. The Jewish council had become a corrupt body declaring in the end that they had no God but Caeser.
We may not chose our circumstances, but Jesus chose this for us. His message to us was do not be afraid– God will empower you. If we always listened to this message I wonder if the situation would be as bad as it is now? If we start to proclaim the Gospel loudly now I wonder if it will get worse? After all we know it’s silence in the face of evil that allows it to prosper. When we are embarrassed of Christ He is embarrassed of us.
He chose to be born into poverty. As the presents pile up and the bills do too we need to remember that. How can we be one with Christ when in the most important liturgical times we live so far away from Him?
Also, when He limited His divinity He did so to be with us. I read someone’s thoughts on that just recently. Jesus, who was without sin, wasn’t just baptised by someone “unfit to tie his sandals”, but waited in line with the sinners. How’s that for Emmanuel?
Shouldn’t we be with the poor by limiting what we have if we have plenty? Of course, this automatically leads to what do we do with our plenty.
You will be a sign to the world. As the meaning behind Christmas disappears from our societies, we see how true the saying attributed to G. K. Chesterton is; people don’t stop believing, they believe in anything. In other words idolatry takes hold in the nation. Whether its political parties demanding the sacrifice of family relationships if they don’t vote the same way, our drinking culture and its fallout in inappropriate sexual relationships, the idolatrous fasting in sacrifice to vanity that comes in the New Year……these idols kill the souls of those around us bit by bit.
By keeping a ‘little Lent’ – turning down sweet foods, or alcohol with grace, whilst remaining joyous in anticipation – you draw people’s attention to what it is meant to be about. Then, as their abstinence starts and you continue to feast you are a counter cultural sign again. When they moan that they must give up and you celebrate without excess, or guilt, but with hope, you point to the Babe in the manger. You see, Christmas without Him is empty, they will feel that and want the hole filled.
How You Can Fast
In response to my last point; fast from your favourite foods and alcohol. A few years ago my agnostic husband and I decided to fast before Christmas. The year before we’d been struck by how much Christmas did not seem like Christmas anymore, you know? When we were young it was exciting to have your favourite foods. but now we control the purse and society is so much richer (this was before the big financial crash) apart from uniquely festive food we didn’t just have everything, we indulged regularly. So we decided to go without throughout Advent.
Then when we feasted it felt so much more special!
Furthermore when you live liturgically there is no need to feel the modern guilty relationship we have with food because everything is in its season. There are periods of fasting and repentance, followed by periods of feasting and joy. Jesus demonstrated this. As a good Jew He certainly took part in Jewish liturgical fasting, and when He was challenged by the Pharisees to act as they would wish he didn’t because He knew what the time called for.
Step back from the news and align yourself with God’s thoughts. There are so many countries right now where politics just seems to be so destructive; Brexit, America and its still controversial election, Germany and AFD, France. When I’m listing these I’m sincerely not making a statement about these situations apart from to say they have put enmity between those who should be close. I know Jesus said that His presence would bring division and we shouldn’t aim for peace at any cost, but its easy to get so caught up in this that we miss what God wants.
Stepping back helps us focus on God and have a sense of what He wants. It’s also a humbling experience. It’s important to be politically aware – it’s part of being a good neighbour after all – nevertheless God’s got this and if we truly want to serve Him then we need to ensure we hear Him.
Don’t shop for yourself prior to Christmas apart from essentials. About a decade ago I noticed the selfish adverts coming onto tv. Adverts that spoke about giving seemed to vanish; ‘you’re worth it’ might have been the slogan for one company, but it became the meaning behind the majority.
Even at Christmas, where the majority do still focus on others thankfully, I’ve seen adverts indicating extra gifts that you ‘give to yourself’. Yeah, thats not a gift.
Christmas is now so decadent that its easy to be swept up and just buy, buy, buy. Make a decision that you’re not going to buy for yourself this year throughout the month of December. It will remind you that Jesus was born into poverty each time you make the decision not to indulge.
If you’ve got any thoughts on why it’s important and how you can make the connection through fasting I’d love to hear them.