The Seasonal Practice:
FAST ONCE DURING ADVENT
The incarnation happened because the world was in need. The world was missing something, something essential to survival. The incarnation happened because without it, the world was dying.
It is no surprise that our lives are incomplete. We feel it constantly, perhaps especially at the holidays.
First, we feel it in shallow ways that are embarrassing to name. We wish we had new countertops, that pair of shoes or the newest version of our device. Not having them makes us feel somehow inadequate, like we are missing something.
Then there are more significant ways. These ways are not embarrassing to name, just painful. We wish we had that loved one back that used to be here. We wish we had the relationships with family we used to have. We wish we knew how to forgive.
Because the holidays are a time of heightened memory, our minds constantly run over what we have and what we used to have, and it is nothing but normal to find our hearts deadened by the persistent sense that something is missing.
Perhaps we feel this way because it's true. Maybe we are missing something. Perhaps we are, actually, incomplete.
The good news of the Gospel is first bad news - we aren’t enough. We’re not even close.
The announcement that Jesus Christ has come to be the Prince of Peace who will reconcile us to God is first the announcement that we are the princes of violence and we have alienated God.
And that is exactly what is missing. God is missing. And without Him, everything falls apart. Without him, we are dying.
This becomes uncomfortable. And it should be. It is an indictment of our very core - we don’t have what it takes to survive, our bodies and souls are slowly dying and we can’t do anything about it.
You and I and the whole wide world all lay on our deathbed while the lights slowly go out.
But then - the incarnation happened. Then the Word became flesh and lit up the darkness. Then Jesus came so that we might have life - and have it to the full. Suddenly everything has changed.
This is all to say that the Gospel doesn’t make sense to a world who pretends they are fine. It doesn’t make sense to those of us who think we lack nothing that we can’t get on our own. It is useless to those who play around in the delusion of self-sufficiency.
The Gospel is good news for the ones who admit that they lack. Hence the Gospel practice of fasting.
In fasting we enter into an acute state of need. We throw our hands up in the air and admit we are dependent. Simply a few hours without food and our emotional lives begin to completely fall apart. We get uncomfortable. Then annoyed. Then angry. Then despairing. And this is the point! To feel and remember that what is true of our stomachs is true of our souls: We are not strong people, we are not stable people, we are not steady people. We are weak and utterly dependent on bread and the bread of life.
We fast in order to remind ourselves of this, and we fast in order to remind ourselves that thought the incarnation has happened - we are still longing for Him to come back.
Look around. It’s not going well. And the only thing that’s clear is that we can’t fix it. Our world needs the Prince of Peace to come again and rule in truth and justice.
To fast, then, is a physical prayer. It is to get your body involved in the heart’s longing, and point your whole being towards the reality that we need a Messiah, and we that Messiah to come back.
It is always strange to fast. Maybe especially strange during the binge eating of the holidays. But no matter, it is always a good time to start, even if you have never fasted for.
First, begin where you are. If you have never fasted before or if you have are pregnant, nursing or have a medical issue - then fast from meat or sugar for twenty-four hours.
If you feel strong, perhaps eat only raw fruits and vegetables and drink only water. Or if you are ready, try going totally without food. The point of fasting is not a rule of which kind, it is the rule of entering into need.
Second, fast communally. This is true of everything about The Common Rule - formational practices are communal practices. So nine out of ten times I recommend fasting with others. Whoever you are doing The Common Rule with this Advent, I suggest that you all fast on the same day.
Sundown to sundown is my preferred timing for a few reasons. First, because I think there is something uniquely powerful about going to bed hungry. Second, because I think there is something uniquely powerful to breaking a fast at a communal meal at sundown the next day.
Finally, and most importantly, make it the center of your day. This is what is particularly formative about habits of fasting, it tends to reshape everything around it. You probably can’t work-out, you might need to go to bed earlier, you could miss a work lunch or a happy hour. That’s the point, suddenly this need, this lack, becomes the center of your life for a day. By stopping the game of pretend independence, our eyes are opened up to spiritual reality. So let your day be reorganized by fasting, and put prayer times where meals would have been.
In Jesus, the way down is the way up. And I pray you will find that in the emptiness of fasting is the fullness of everything you were missing - God Himself.