The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley and his brother Charles first called the people together for a Watch Night service on Christmas Eve in 1755. It was a time for the people called Methodists to rededicate themselves anew to God at the doorway of a new year. It was a time for the Covenant Prayer to be prayed by all:
I am no longer my own, but Thine,
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am Thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen (Book of Hymns #607)
Recently the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference extended cabinet helped to serve lunch at the feeding program provided at Tindley Temple. Rev. Elaine Ayers, the pastor, explained to me the significance of the Watch Night service as it pertains to the African American community. On December 31, 1862 slaves all around the country gathered together in anticipation of the stroke of midnight when the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect and they would be legally free. On “Freedom’s Eve” they worshiped God and rededicated their lives to God as they moved into a new chapter of their life and history.
God is a God of new beginnings. God is always about the business of offering all of us “Freedom’s Eve.” Whatever is binding us does not need to hold us down if we are in Christ Jesus. I hope that everyone will take time, whether in church or with family and friends to observe a Watch Night time of worship on December 31st. Celebrate your freedom in Christ and rededicate all that you are and all that you have to God. Look forward to new avenues of service to God in the year to come.