Matthew 6:16-18 (NRSV)
16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:16-18 (The Voice)
16 And when you fast, do not look miserable as the actors and hypocrites do when they are fasting—they walk around town putting on airs about their suffering and weakness, complaining about how hungry they are. So everyone will know they are fasting, they don’t wash or anoint themselves with oil, pink their cheeks, or wear comfortable shoes. Those who show off their piety, they have already received their reward. 17 When you fast, wash your face and beautify yourself with oil, 18 so no one who looks at you will know about your discipline. Only your Father, who is unseen, will see your fast. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
Fasting! Fasting! Are you kidding me? Don’t you know I have places to go, people to meet, and table after table to deal with? People are coming over to eat, I have food to prepare, the office is having a party, our family will expect a turkey…on top of that, I love pecan pie! Fasting, are you sure?
Yes, the ancient practice of fasting is a part of the process. Do you remember the Advent candles we lit in church yesterday at the opening of the service? There were two purple candles that marked the first and second Sundays of the season. Then there was the candle for this week that was pink. It is the only pink candle in the Advent Wreath.
In the history of the early church, devout believers were invited to fast from the first Sunday of Advent to the Third Sunday of the season as a part of their spiritual preparation. They could break their fast on the Third Sunday so they marked the occasion by lighting a pink candle as a symbol of their victory and as a sign of celebration.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, fasted one day each week as a way of staying on track with his prayer life. I’m not going to invite you to fast for weeks at a time or even one day each week…but I do want to invite you to think seriously about ways you can engage and open your heart so God can speak clearly to you in this season.
As we wait for the Christ Child and give thanks for his love, let’s also ask ourselves some key questions:
• How do I prepare my heart for the blessing of Christmas?
• What spiritual practices do I need to initiate?
• How can I express my thanks for what God has done in my life?