–Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly–
– Joel 1.14-
Approximately 1,500 years ago, fasting was a widely practiced tradition of Advent unlike today. Fasting became increasingly deemphasized during the past several centuries, differentiating the spirit of Lent from that of Advent.
The spirit of Advent today is embedded in honor and hope. We honor Christ’s first coming into the world and express a blessed hope for his second coming. The first coming occurred about 2,000 years ago, which began with the incarnation and concluded with Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. The second coming is the blessed Hope of the Christian Church as expressed in the readings and traditions of the current Advent season.
Restoring Advent Fasting as a Response to the Pain Precipitated by the Pandemic
The physical and emotional pain experienced by millions of people during the past year was unimaginable until we actually witnessed it in person and/or through the media. Many of us cried out for help when cough and fever accompanied by shortness of breath and breathing difficulties led to severe acute respiratory syndrome or worse, death among family, friends, and neighbors.
The effects of the pandemic on personal and public health have been overwhelming. The economic effects are increasingly disturbing, especially regarding the disproportionate impact on the poor and the potential to send millions of more persons into poverty, likely increasing their exposure to potential covid-19 infection.
Declare a Holy Fast; Call a Sacred Assembly (Joel 1.14)
Let us declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly and embed fasting in our Advent Season, which begins tomorrow, alongside honor and hope.
Fasting is found throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. It is often a way of expressing grief or a means of humbling ourselves before God. Let us humbly call upon God, collectively crying for help for our families, friends, neighbors, and one another during the pandemic.
The scriptures note that,
- David humbled himself with fasting (Psalm 35.13);
- The disciples often prayed and fasted (Acts 13.3; Acts 14.23);
- “The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth (Jonah 3.5);” and
- A widow “. . . never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying (Luke 2.37).”
Framing Our Advent Fast
Let the purpose of our fast be to “Carry each other’s (pandemic-related) burdens, and in this way (we) will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6.2).
While fasting and praying during the coming Advent Season, may we carry the burdens of others, cry out to God in intercession on behalf of those wounded by the infectious disease out of a deep sense of shared woundedness, and mournfully exclaim
- My heart is wounded within me (Psalm 109.22);
- My heart is smitten (Ps 102.4);
- My heart is in anguish within me (Psalm 55.4);
- My heart pounds within me (Jeremiah 4.19).
Let each of us choose a time during each of the four weeks of Advent to abstain from everything—not just one thing like food and/or drink—except prayer during an appropriate period of time. Perhaps for the length of time it takes to eat a meal or a span of a day such as a morning, afternoon, or evening.
Honoring Christ’s First Coming into the World
Honoring Christ’s first coming into the world is one of two primary focuses of Advent. Such honoring recognizes that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16).” Honoring also recognizes that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness (Matthew 9.35).”
During our prayerful Advent fast, be mindful of what the Apostle John said about witnessing and sharing all of Jesus’ healing acts.
There are many more things that Jesus did.
If all of them were written down,
I suppose that not even the world itself
would have space for the books that would be written.
(John 21. 25).
Let us also be mindful that to honor Christ’s first coming into the world is to “Carry one another’s (pandemic related) burdens, and that in this way we will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6.2) and that “The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 5.14).’ Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you (John 15.12).”
Thus, during our prayerful Advent fast, let us be aware that it is within our power to act in the midst of the pandemic in ways to heal the pain precipitated by the pandemic.
Do good to everyone who has been pained by the pandemic. The scriptures inspire us to do so for we were created for good works:
For we are God’s handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Therefore, we are not to withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is within our power to act (Proverbs 3.27) for we were created for good works and as we have occasion, do good to everyone who needs to heal from the pain precipitated by the pandemic, which God prepared each of us to do in advance.
The blessed Hope of the Second Coming of Christ
“As we wait for the blessed hope–the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2.13),” let us be mindful during our Advent fast that Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2.14).”
Therefore, let us be eager to do what is good. For we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of (God) who called you out of darkness into (the Spirit’s) marvelous light (I Peter 2.9).” For we “are a holy people belonging to the Lord (our) God” for “the Lord has chosen (us) to be a prized possession (Deuteronomy 14.2).”
So, as prized possessions, let us collectively “declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly (Joel 1.14)” for it is time to restore the tradition of fasting during Advent because of the pain precipitated by the pandemic.