As we approach the latter end of 2019, we come into my favorite season of the year. The time of year when the crisp, cool air refreshes both body and soul. The time of year when a subtle crunch of leaves underfoot can lead to a childish smile spreading across your face. The time of year full of food, celebration, family, and friends all mingling together in front of a cozy fire, creating the perfect atmosphere of joy and thankfulness. And, despite the cooler temperatures, it is the warmth this time of year brings that is worth the attention. After all, when we come together to celebrate the holidays, it is to be gathered with those who we love most and to give thanks for the things given to us, as well as to give adoration to the Giver of all good gifts.
As we gather in the coming months, much of what we will do to celebrate will take place around the dinner table, amply supplied with an array of delicious holiday favorites. We will fill our plates with roasted turkey and casserole, buttered bread and yams, stuffing and mashed potatoes, and top it all off with more pie than we have eaten in all the preceding months of the year combined. So, the question naturally arises, is this too much? Is such abundance frivolous, wasteful, or even gluttonous? Here, I would like to turn and see what Scripture teaches regarding feasting. I believe we will find that, when done properly, a true feast may not be wasteful at all, but honoring to God.
The Bible on Feasting
The first thing to note is that, in the Bible, feasts are prescribed and commanded by the Lord (Exod 12:14, 23:16, 34:22; Deut 16:10, et passim). They are not trivial get-togethers where Israel could opt-in or out, but were commanded to be observed by the Lord.
Secondly, these feasts often revolved around (you guessed it!) food and feasting (Deut 16:13-15)! Israel lived in an agrarian world, and when the harvest came in it was a time for a big meal to say thanks to the Lord for His provision.
Next, these feasts were often what we, as modern Americans with plenty, might even call excessive, lasting up to 7 days in a row (Deut. 16:15). These were not light affairs and gatherings, but national celebrations calling for all the people to devote a whole week to celebrating.
Finally, a key point to the feasts of Israel is the steady refrain throughout the Old Testament that these feasts are “to the Lord” (Exod 10:9, 12:14, 13:6, Lev 23:6, Num 29:12, Deut 16:10, Judg 21:19). These feasts are not solely about being filled with food, but pouring out in praise. They are about worshipping the God of abundance and thanking Him for pouring out blessings upon His people.
How does this apply to us today?
First, I would say that we do not need to feel guilty about celebrating in the coming months. To have times of celebration and abundance is not necessarily sinful or wasteful, but is actually good in many regards. However, I would also urge us to think about how our upcoming feasts might be “to the Lord.” How can we gather at the table in the spirit of true thankfulness and allow these celebrations of plenty abound in praise?
Secondly, Israel’s feasts were often about ensuring that all, poor included, were able to join in the festivities (Deut 16:14). So, perhaps in the spirit of Mary’s Magnificat that is so oft-quoted at this time of year—“he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53)—we ought to see how we could extend our table this season. After all, when we feed the hungry and bless the poor we are doing so as unto Christ himself (Matt 25:37-40), and what better time to do so than during this time of festal feasting?