Whoopee. We’re not big party-ers around here, I’m afraid, and the older we get, the more it is true. Oh, I try. I’m a night owl, so every year I put together a pretty table of goodies in the hope that someone will stay up and watch the New Year come in on television with me and celebrate just a little, but every year it’s the same old story. Lo-o-ong before midnight Bob zonks out. Can’t say that I blame him. He is an early bird and is up two or three hours before I am. Normally that works out well for us. I take the late shift with Robbie, and then Bob lets me sleep in a little and he takes care of Robbie’s early morning needs. I don’t think even a real party on New Year’s Eve would keep him up ‘til midnight.
Then there’s Robbie. Even he has deserted me! Just about any other night of the year someone magically flips a switch at the stroke of midnight and our quiet, sleeping boy turns into a party animal and makes as much joyful noise as he can make with his most obnoxiously noisy toys. [See my blog “Finding the Words to Say” from April 14, 2013.] But come New Year’s Eve and he’s snuggled in next to Daddy and dreaming of dancing sugar-plum fairies at midnight. (Really???)
I’m pretty sure this Tuesday night I’ll get phone calls an hour early from the Naranjos in Ecuador and maybe even two hours late from the Sanchez family in California as they celebrate, but there won’t be any fireworks or toasting or kissing going on around here. I guess you could say on the highway of life, we’re just a bunch of speed bumps.
When I was growing up, our church always had a “Watchnight Service” on New Year’s Eve. It was a highlight of our year and we wouldn’t think of missing it. The evening was filled with singing, a Christian movie or maybe some games, goodies down in the fellowship hall, and then as midnight approached, Communion around the Lord’s Table. As the clock struck twelve, we were ushering in the New Year in prayer, while we could hear fireworks going off outside the church. When the final “Amen” was said, we hugged or kissed our loved ones sitting nearby. Happy New Year!
Jesus asked His disciples to stay up late one night with Him—not to celebrate but to pray. They had just finished the Passover meal and Jesus wanted to go to Gethsemane. Within hours He would be betrayed, judged and crucified. “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Matthew 26:36-45)
When Jesus told the disciples to watch, what did He mean? The word watch in the Greek means to “stay awake” or “be sleepless.” Beyond the physical sense of the word, He wanted them to be vigilant, to be on guard, aware, alert and focused. He knew He was about to be betrayed and He wanted these, His closest friends and disciples, to stand with Him. Instead, they fell asleep.
Jesus then took His request one step further than merely asking them to stay physically awake when He said to Peter, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Essentially, He was saying, “Be vigilant and pray, Peter, so that you will have the strength to withstand temptation and sin! I know your intentions are good, but your human willpower is weak.”
He asks the same thing of us. Romans 13:11 says, “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” Wake up from your spiritual sleep! Be vigilant! Jesus is coming again quickly and it is urgent that we each be spiritually prepared and working to help others be prepared as well.
As a kid, I wondered why we called it “watchnight.” I guess I just assumed it meant we were watching the New Year come in. Now as an adult I understand that the term signifies a two-pronged question: Will this New Year be the one in which Jesus returns—and are we watching and praying vigilantly in preparation?
May 2014 AD be the year!