Most Christians haven’t heard of an Advent fast. The Orthodox keep it quite seriously, as they do all four of the major fasts. But Western Christians, even those raised in the traditional Roman church, have forgotten or never knew about the disciplines of Advent. While keeping a strict fast may only be possible when one is living a monastic life or in a fasting community, some discipline is a good practice in the seasons of preparation before the festivals.
For those of us whose lives overlap the world, we may not be able to be so strict without causing others discomfort or great inconvenience. Honestly, I don’t like cooking two sets of meals myself if a member of the household is not able to fast with us. I know I can’t starve myself on bread and salad for six weeks, either. So this year we have a modified discipline, because I am the only one in the house who is able to fast.
We have another, more practical discipline – a freezer full of meat that needed to be used before it was unusable. Now this is an odd kind of fasting, to eat beef in a fasting season. But it was the most sensible thing to do. Instead of buying fresh meat or even vegetarian foods through the month, our goal is to use up what we have before it is wasted. There are other foods in the pantry as well that we have bought but not used; it is time to clear that out and start over. I don’t want to realize some day that “uh-oh, that has gone way past its sell-by date!” or that a forgotten bag of flour is actually rancid. We have decided to be more mindful of what we have, and give thanks to God by utilizing it.
Some things have gone to the food bank for those who simply can’t keep frozen or fresh things – canned soups, pudding mixes, and so on, that are convenient for those with limited cooking facilities. Right now, we have time, power and appliances to cook almost everything from scratch. This saves money that can be better used to help others.
Our gifts to God, especially when used for the support of others, should be the first fruits, not the last fruits. When the prophet Amos has a vision of a basket of late summer fruit, the Lord tells him it is Israel, and it is not satisfactory. That is because it is the last fruits – the overripe, left behind produce no one really wanted. It is the sacrifice that a negligent people made to God. The people kept the best for themselves, and gave away what they did not want at all. This is no sacrifice.
Most financial advisors will tell their clients, “Pay yourself first,” meaning that you should set aside money in savings at the top of your budget. God tells Christians this: Give generously of your first fruits. Charity is not the last item on the budget; God puts it first. The Lord says, “What you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.” If it were Jesus standing in line at the food bank, or without the money for winter shoes, would you give him something you didn’t want? Wouldn’t you take him home for a beautiful holiday meal, hand him the new boots you were wearing? Would you hand him a stale tuna sandwich or roast a turkey for him? Would you see him walk away in your old gym shoes or your new leather dress shoes?
I have often regretted what I have bought, and I have never regretted what I have given away.