By Niki Turner
I like to start the New Year off on the right foot... not exhausted from staying up all night, not nursing a headache and an upset stomach from overindulging in food or drink, nor languishing the first day of the New Year away on the couch watching TV.
Attending — or implementing — a "watchnight" service is one way to sweep out the cobwebs from the previous year, and prepare one's soul and spirit for the days ahead.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, began the custom of holding watchnight services in 1740. The church service, held on New Year's Eve and sometimes Christmas Eve, provided a spiritual activity for Methodist Christians on evenings traditionally devoted to partying and carousing. Attendees spent the service singing, praying, and hearing scripture as part of what Wesley referred to as "covenant revival" or "covenant renewal," in which the faithful rededicated their lives and purpose to their Lord.
In the United States, during the turbulent years of the Civil War, slaves gathered on New Year's Eve—aka Freedom's Eve—in 1862 to celebrate the moment, at midnight, when Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation officially became law. The joyous celebration of freedom on New Year's Eve has continued for more than a century in many African-American church congregations.
Watchnight, or Freedom's Eve, is the perfect occasion to set aside some time to thank God for the freedom we have in Christ, to repent (turn around and go a new direction), to forgive those who have wronged us in the past year, and to renew our commitment to seek God's guidance and direction and blessing in every area of our lives.
May your New Year's Eve celebration tonight involve a few minutes with your Heavenly Father, remembering the great and unconditional love He has for you and the good plans He has for you in the year to come!
Happy New Year to you all!