Watch Night

December 31, 2012

Mark 13:32, 37

"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. . . and what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Reflection by Molly Baskette

It's New Year's Eve, and doubtless you've made your plans already. Happy to have survived the predicted Mayan apocalypse, you’re going to celebrate another year of being a living, breathing earthling. Perhaps you’ll mark the feast in a quiet way at home, or a noisy way out and about. Or maybe you're going to church.

Church? Wha'?

Watch Night started as an alternative to rowdy New Year's Eve drinking among the temperant Moravians in the 18th century. Charles Wesley later popularized it, but it really started to gain traction in the late 19th century, when African-American churches made it a regular event, with a slight shift in focus.

Legend has it that slaves sat up on New Year's Eve, 1862, the night before the Emancipation Proclamation was to take effect. They were waiting up to see if they really would become free.

Christians to this day continue the tradition of Watch Night, a night dedicated to staying awake as spiritual preparation for the new year ahead:  a year of possibility and new freedoms emerging.

I'd make the case that people who go out and get schnockered are seeking freedom, too. There is a sense in which every New Year's Eve is a Great Ending. I think this is what drives so many people to drink on New Year's Eve—in a happy way, at least some of the time. If this is the world's last night, what do you want to be doing? Some of us seek a different sort of freedom, longing to lose our inhibitions and do some sweaty, silly dancing, or kiss the closest person at hand at the stroke of midnight

Of course, it would be great if we didn't need stimulants to get that free.

So, what to do?  Go out and get wild, or get on your knees in prayer? What would Jesus have us do?

Do we really have to choose? Why not have a crazy dance party in our churches, with candlelight and disco balls and safe space for folks in recovery, teens and families? With a great hugfest at the end, praying toward the time when all, all, all of God’s children will be free?

Prayer

Holy God, make our churches as fun as Times Square, and the streets as holy-feeling as our sanctuaries, just for this one night. And may all your people one day be free. Amen.

About the Author
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister at First Church Somerville UCC, in Somerville, Massachusetts.

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