Fasting, Feasting

In October of this year we looked at fasting. I think it’s pretty obvious to any of us, right off the bat, that fasting is a spiritual practice. It involves prayer, sacrifice, an inner focus on God.

Its corollary, feasting, often seems unspiritual to us. Is it good to have fun and celebrate with friends? Sure. But is it part of spiritual growth? Hmmm . . .

This week of all weeks I do declare that feasting — laughing with friends, enjoying food, drinking deeply of life — can be a very meaningful spiritual practice. In fact it ought to be part of our spiritual rhythm — joy, gratitude, exuberant delight in the good gifts of life ought to be one of the most significant characteristics of a Christian’s outlook on life!

God’s people in the Old Testament structured their life, year after year, around fasts and significant feasts:

• Passover, a solemn celebration in remembrance of God’s protection of his people from death during the last plague in Egypt (Leviticus 23:5–8; Deuteronomy 16:1–8);

• the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), a festive celebration of gratitude during the wheat harvest involving dancing, music, and offerings to God (Leviticus 23:15-22; Deuteronomy 16:9-12);

• the Festival of Booths (Sukkot), a celebration both somber and joyous, recalling the wandering in the dessert and full of its own traditions including building booths/tents to sleep outdoors (Leviticus 23:33-43; Deuteronomy 16:13-15).

• Another important Jewish celebration that came into view in the intertestamental period and was part of Jesus’ own celebration was the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights)  in which God’s people remembered a miracle and the rededication of the temple in the 2nd century BC (see John 10:22).

A rhythm of feasting around which one’s life was structured — God designed it to form the soul in gratitude. To help his people remember, over and over and over, all that he had done, all that he was and is, all that he had promised.

For us today, celebration can be profoundly spiritual if our hearts are likewise focused on gratitude and remembrance — if our spirits are sitting at the table of joy with God as our host.

Feasting can be complicated — we must consider and be wary of the lure of self-centeredness and materialism during feasts, keeping in mind the needy and the mindset God urges us to have toward money and stuff (stewardship). Yet the example in Scripture of multiple celebrations, year after year, tells us clearly that it’s okay to feast. In fact, it’s important.  It’s a good thing to have moments marked by bounty, by enjoyment of the blessed gifts of food and drink and family.

This week, whatever your Advent/Christmas traditions are — be they as simple as store-bought candy canes and watching Elf on TV or as elaborate as a fully decorated house, a bountiful meal, and a festive tree — prioritize the spiritual feast. In your heart, receive God’s invitation to enjoy life’s good gifts with him. As you do, you’re able to view your own feasting through the spiritual lens of gratitude: thank you for this food, for this family, for this laughter, and even for this post-feast mess.

God is so good.

Merry Christmas.

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