The folks at CT were kind enough to reprint a section of God Rest Ye Merry, and it was the section that urges everyone -- in the name of Puritanism no less -- to go overboard for Christmas. Now I admit that there are ways of sinning in this, going over the port rail when it should have been starboard, and we must always be careful to guard our hearts. There are instances when, if a man comes prophesying fudge and spiced wines, he would be just the spokesman for this people (Micah 2:11).
That acknowledged, I ran across a riposte to my point, if not to my words, which retorted, "Jesus, in preparation for the Satanic temptation, feasted sumptuously for 40 days to prove He wasn't a gnostic." This is presumably leaning against the leaning against Advent as a penitential season. It contains a worthy point, deserving of a response.
So of course, the issue isn't fasting, but rather when and how. When Christ fasted in the wilderness, He was the incarnate God who was fasting, the walking refutation of all gnostic pipe dreams. His fasting, His ascetic discipline, was more world-affirming than that of any given gnostic theorist who ever peeled a grape. He created the world, and everything in it, and then He was born into it. All the disciplines He applied to His body just serve to remind us that He has a body.
So then, what are we to do with this? If we grant, as we must, that Christ was a fasting ninja, what impact should that have on us? Now if someone is really good at something, what should we do about it when it comes time for imitation? Well, we should do it the way He says! Jesus clearly knows how to fast properly, and if He tells us what we must not do when we try to follow Him, then we should take care to listen to Him. He says, in the first instance, that we are not to let others know what we are doing. We are not to put on a show (Matt. 6:16). We are not to post fasting updates on Facebook. He assumes that His followers will fast (Luke 5:35), but He makes a point to tell us how we must not do it.
What would we make of someone who pointed out that Jesus prayed all night, which He did (Luke 6:12), and concluded from this that we all need to pad more words into our prayers, and we really need to lengthen out our prayers in the synagogues? The problem would be how this collides with the instruction that was given to us by the person who knows how to pray so effectively (Matt. 6:7; Matt. 6:5).
Celebrations are public (John 2:1). Decorations, fudge, platters of ham, and toasts around the table are all appropriate in public (Dt. 14:26). Now fasting can be public if the president called the fast because of the Klingon invasion (Esther 4:3). But when it comes to the practice of personal piety, where the focus is on on-going, ritual discipline, Jesus commands us to keep it between ourselves and God. The Father who sees in secret will reward us openly, and that should be openness enough.