Members of New Community Covenant Church are invited to fast during the season of Advent, November 27 through December 24. We will also pray the Daily Office.
What is Advent?
The four weeks before Christmas are known as Advent. From the Latin word adventus, meaning coming, Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. Advent reminds us of the time before Jesus’ birth when God’s people were anticipating the Messiah. We also remember that we await Jesus’ return in glory. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before December 25. It ends on Christmas Eve.
For Christians, Advent is the beginning of the church calendar. It is a season of preparation during which we anticipate the Christmas celebration of the birth of the Son of God. It is also a season of reflection during which we meditate on our call to be a people who live faithfully until our Lord’s return.
Why do Christians fast?
While there are different reasons Christians might fast, we find our purpose in Scripture. The Bible reveals fasting to be primarily a practice in response to anything that does not reflect God’s good will for us. This includes everything from personal sin to systemic injustice.
We also remember Jesus’ assumption that his disciples would choose to fast once he had ascended to the Father and before returning again in glory (Matthew 9; Mark; 2; Luke 5). “But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
Fasting and abstaining doesn’t come naturally to us. We might not feel particularly spiritual when making these commitments. But fasting is a choice to respond with our entire selves – a prayer with our whole body – to the wrong that grieves our righteous God even as we turn with joy to the grace of Jesus which redeems all things.
Why fast during Advent?
Throughout the history of the church Christians have viewed Advent as a natural season of fasting. During Advent we prepare for Christ’s coming by repenting – turning away – from everything that hinders our worship and devotion to God. Jesus assumes that his followers will fast until he returns (see above), a theme that is particularly relevant during Advent. It is a season to clear ourselves of the distractions which might block the joy of our salvation.
How does the Advent fast work?
Our fast will begin on the first Sunday of Advent, November 27 and continue through Christmas Eve. There are two parts to our fast, one corporate and the other personal.
Our corporate fast, borrowing from Church tradition and contemporary fasts like the Daniel Fast, involves fasting from meat, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar, and processed (refined, fried, etc.) foods. If you struggle in any way with an eating disorder or have any health concerns, please modify the fast so that it is healthy for you. Consult your doctor with any questions about your health and your pastors with any discernment questions.
We will also be abstaining from our screens and devices for anything other than work-related activities: social media, live TV, video games, streaming services, etc. Many of us spend so much time on screens that a prolonged time of abstention can create space for rest, reflection, community, etc.
For your personal fast, consider how you can simplify your life for these three weeks so that you can be more present to God and your community. Maybe you could leave the radio off during your commute. Maybe you can avoid any non-essential purchases. Maybe this is an opportunity to repent of an addiction and to ask a friend for accountability.
In place of what you set aside, consider how you can bless someone with the time or money that has been freed up. Is there someone in our church who has a financial need? Is there a non-profit organization that could use your year-end gift? Is there a friend who you could invite over for a vegan meal and good conversation? You may also discern this fast to be the right time to pick up a habit or spiritual discipline that will orient you toward Christ in the coming year.
During Advent we will be observing a modified version of the Daily Office, a practice of morning, afternoon, and evening Bible reading and prayer. You can find the Daily Office here.
Why are we fasting from these particular foods?
The list of foods is mainly borrowed from ancient Christian traditions where more indulgent foods are replaced with simpler ones. There are also biblical precedents of seasons where God’s people limited themselves to vegetarian diets.
Why are we abstaining from screens and devices?
While it’s not true for all of us, screens and devices like our phones, televisions, and iPads have become so ubiquitous that we don’t realize how dependent we’ve become. Because Advent is a time for reflection and preparation, we want to set down our devices and turn off our computers as much as possible to open up space for meditation, conversation, and prayer.
I’m hosting a holiday party that’s already scheduled. Should I cancel it?
No! There may be a time or two when you’ll need to break the Advent fast. Showing hospitality to your neighbors very well may be one of them.
The weeks before Christmas are usually filled with great food and drink, often shared with friends and coworkers. Couldn’t we have started this fast in January?
There is never a good time to start a fast. There will always be a good reason to postpone it. Given the purposes Christians have historically found during Advent, we believe it is worth the sacrifices we’ll each need to make to keep this fast. Choosing to attend a holiday party and not break the fast will also be a great experience in empathy with those who are in recovery or who have significant dietary restrictions who regularly have to abstain in these settings.
Aren’t the weeks before Christmas supposed to be joyful?
Yes! Though Advent is a season of reflection and preparation we have to remember that the focus of our reflection is Jesus! So though fasting is always provoked by what is wrong (in my life and the world), the direction of our prayerful fasting is always Jesus, the source of our joy. Pastor David said more about this in this short video a couple of years ago.
Is there a way my children can participate in the fast?
Yes! Obviously our children will not participate in the fast from food in the same way adults do. However, we encourage you to find ways to create space and claim time for your children to experience the wonder and anticipation of Advent. This could involve an Advent calendar, family devotions and prayer, and memorizing a portion of Scripture related to the birth of Christ. But maybe your children can find something age-appropriate to abstain from during Advent, something that would help them look forward to Christmas with more than the typically American consumerist expectations.