Summary: Watch Night
New Year’s Eve has a different kind of feel to it than other times that we celebrate during the year. It doesn’t have the hope of Christmas, or the joy of Resurrection Morning, the sense of reverence of Thanksgiving, the national pride of July 4. It’s not really even like a birthday. The revelry that people engage in tonight is a different kind of revelry, often one touched with despair - more like a wake - an occasion of celebration tinged with regret and grief. It’s a time, as we stand between two years,
when we feel a natural urge to look over our shoulders, to see the results of our labor, to see what fruits what been produced by us in the past year.
It’s a time that belongs to memory: some incidents we recall fondly, yet as we evaluate the past, we also see unfulfilled hopes and dreams, unkept promises - we recall the magic of the past, perhaps, with regret that it could not remain with us. We remember unfulfilled relationships and unfinished business.
So much of the drinking and carrying on that we see tonight is unveiled as an attempt to forget - to cover up in the celebration the emptiness, the pain, the remorse and regret that we feel from the past.
New Year’s Eve is not a holiday of the church. And yet scripture does speak to us tonight. It has a special message for us who live on the far end of the field, who are attempting to evaluate the fruits of our labor; who, perhaps find our lives wanting; and especially those who have trouble facing the New Year because we are still so stuck in the regrets of the past.
The first part of its message is the call for repentance. The word means, "to turn around and head off in a new direction." It is important to learn from the past. But it is even more important that we not belong to it. We can’t be like Lot’s wife, always looking over our shoulders, until we are frozen in the past, unable to move forward any longer. Elisha was called to leave the plow in the field; Matthew was called to leave his booth; Peter and James were called from their nets. Jesus said, "He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not worthy of me." Hebrews says that we are sojourners in a land that, in a sense, will always be foreign to us, because we belong to a kingdom of the future, of God’s future - we are always journeying toward that kingdom and that future. We cannot remain in the past, either in its glory or in its regret. We need to turn, and to set our faces elsewhere.
That "elsewhere" is the future. That is the second part of the message. The world fears the future. It seems so unreliable, so unpredictable, so uncontrollable. It seems that not many like a dark night, full of dangerous things. The future is unseen and unseeable,
like in those dark nights of our childhood when we hid under our covers because we didn’t know and couldn’t see the monsters that may have been lurking in the dark. The monsters of the future seem more real than God’s grace and His guiding hand. Natural disasters, poverty, illness, and separation - they all seem to crouch in waiting for us, and so we are tempted to look to the safe covers of the past, or the familiar, to protect us.
Yet the word of the Gospel is that the future belongs to God. He is waiting there for us.
Our security is in him - not in a past that we can’t recapture it anyway.
Our future is a future in God - so there is nothing to fear in it. Our future is a hopeful one. The New Year is a time of promise. It is there that God’s promises will be fulfilled in us and in this world. We are being called to the future - God’s future - just as Abraham and Sarah were called to journey into their promise, or as Moses and Miriam were, or Peter, or Paul, or any others of the saints. We are being called into a bright future, because in that future we will only draw closer and closer to Him.
Tonight is a time for remembrance. It is a time to remember God’s faithfulness, as well as our own mistakes, so that we can learn from them. It is also a time for repentance, to walk a new path, a way that is closer to the kingdom, a time for dedicating ourselves anew to God’s work. It is a time for dreaming, for envisioning, a time for hope, a time for planning. What will the New Year be like? We don’t know. But we do know that it belongs to God. In it He is calling us further into His likeness, further into His kingdom, further into His promises, further into His presence.