Food at Christmas

I love food. I love planning menus, grocery shopping, cooking—and eating. Especially during the holidays. Really, the only thing I don’t like about food is the dishes that I have to wash after the meal is done.

I’m a pretty typical North American in my love for eating. Our culture pushes food in unbelievable ways. We have food blogs, foodies, celebrity chefs, food documentaries, an entire tv channel devoted to food, and well over 500,000 restaurants in the U.S. alone. Our grocery stores are so large that the American government assigns people to help refugees navigate the aisles and tell them not to eat anything from the pet section.

In other words, we’re over the top. There is a word for someone who spends unnecessary amounts of time, money, and thought on food, especially when they are not thankful to God for it: glutton. Food is different for different people. My brother (an army officer cadet who is on several sports teams) spends more time eating much more food than my husband (a church history professor). That’s as it should be. Each individual crosses the line into gluttony at a different place, and it’s not always related to the volume of food consumed.

America is a nation of gluttons, me included. The time between American Thanksgiving and Christmas makes this really obvious, as we budget large amounts for extravagant food, plan extended times of eating, and count on dieting in the New Year because we know that we’ll have gained extra weight.

There is a time to feast and celebrate an occasion with food, enjoying God’s provision (Ecc. 3:13); Heaven itself will host the final, ultimate feast (Rev. 19:9). But what we think of as a normal supper meal would be feasting for most people in the world through history. And the extravagance that North Americans indulge in at this time of year is simply an exaggerated form of what we’re doing year round: looking for the next taste experience, hunting out the best restaurant, satisfying those cravings, and telling everyone about the food we’ve consumed. Philippians 3:19 applies to an awful lot of Americans: “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

Gluttony is a sin. Not surprisingly, Scripture has much to say about it. It might be helpful to meditate on some passages as we are in a season of feasting. “Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags” (Prov. 23:20-21). “And put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite” (Prov. 23:2). “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it” (Prov. 25:16). “They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved” (Ps. 78:18).

We usually think of gluttony as a sin of overweight people. But eating two helpings of dessert when you’re already full of turkey is just as wrong whether you’re gaining weight from it, vomiting it up, or working it off by an 8 mile run the next morning.

Gluttony is a sin because it is a selfish use of limited resources, an abuse of our bodies, which are temples of the Spirit (I Cor. 6:19), and focuses our minds on the food, not the Provider. In other words, food becomes our idol, and we become unhappy if we don’t get as much as we want, when we want, as exquisite as we want. But there are biblical practices to aid us in fighting gluttony.

Thankfulness. When you realize that you don’t deserve the food you have, and that it is an incredible provision from a Creator to His creatures, you will be more humble and careful in your use of it. You will be thankful for and content with what you have instead of looking for more, better, more often.

Fasting. “When you fast,” Christ told His disciples (Matt. 6:17). He assumed that we would be fasting. Are we? Fasting does many things for the believer. For one thing, it makes you realize that you can do with less and simpler food than you usually have. In our age of office work, we can run on surprisingly little. And when you break a fast, you don’t really care if it’s only an apple or a simple slice of toast that you’re eating. It is obvious that both are God’s kind gift to keep our bodes alive. Fasting also reminds us that our biggest need is not an amazing meal, or even food, period. It is Christ, the bread of life. Are we hungering and thirsting after our favourite food more than righteousness?

Giving. December the 26th is Boxing Day for many Commonwealth nations. Although it is now a day that many people hit the shops to get the sales, it was originally (and still sometimes is) a day on which people packed up extra food and other material goods to give to the poor. In other words, leftovers were not something to binge on for the week between Christmas and New Years, but an abundance to share with those who had none. The practice of celebratory feasting followed immediately by giving away extra is a helpful one in tempering natures prone to gluttony.

So while you feast in this season, do so remembering that whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, it must be done to God’s glory (I Cor. 10:31). Don’t allow the celebration of Christmas become a period of gluttony. Instead, as we celebrate God’s mercy to us, let’s present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to our Saviour (Rom. 12:1).