How does it happen? Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean I am old-fashioned. Some change is actually very good: goodbye phone booths – hello cell phones!. But some change may cause us to overlook important things. First it was substituting the Sunday night service for the Super Bowl party. Eventually the Sunday night services went away. Next, it was the use of multiple services in place of Sunday School. Eventually Sunday School went away. Perhaps I am oversimplifying things.
This week we looked for a Watch Night service as we anticipated New Years’ Eve and the start of a new year. There were a few deliverance-type of churches and smaller traditional congregations that mentioned a Watch Night service. But the choices were limited. Where have all the Watch Night services gone?
These “Watch Night” services were actually started by John Wesley in 1740 (see http://tinyurl.com/nxbmdye). The first broad implementation of the Watch Night service was in African American churches in 1862 (see http://tinyurl.com/mqmxkce). It was said that these church members gathered then at churches and homes to wait for the news that the Emancipation Proclamation had become law. This would occur on January 1, 1863. Since that time these evening services that welcomed in the New Year with prayer and communion have become a regular part of the worship experience of many Christian believers. Many traditional churches have focused more attention on the Christmas celebrations while interest in the Watch Night programs has waned (see http://tinyurl.com/m5nyo72).
Nothing in this brief research here noted how the name of this program originated. But when I consider the name of this service and my own personal experience, I am mindful of the passage from Psalm 127:1 – “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain” (NIV). It seems critical for us to invoke the Lord’s blessing and oversight over our plans entering this New Year.
We do not necessarily need to gather at a church to thank God for His past blessings, praise Him for His continual presence and plead for His mercy at this one particular time each year. It is traditional at this time every year that we celebrate the transition to a new year with new hopes and expectations. I fear that most of our attention will be directed towards frozen revelers in Times Square or noisy televised countdowns. I urge you to consider the spiritual condition of our nation and our own communities, and spend a few minutes asking God to watch over your city and your loved ones as we enter the new calendar year. May God richly bless you as you give attention to His priorities and His leading entering this new season!