Preaching Notes for New Year's Eve/Watch Night, Year A
By Cynthia Wilson
Claiming the Promise
Watch Night is another night to gather together to worship and to hope. Watch Night is not simply the culmination of the Advent and Christmas series, but a new beginning. It is an opportunity to set a course for the journey that continues. But this course setting is less about a route or even a destination (since God is the destination) and more about a mode of transport. Mode? Perhaps mood works better. Or attitude. Watch Night helps us declare how we will travel.
Our text from the Hebrew Scriptures is familiar, but often misunderstood. Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 is well known, in part thanks to the ‘60s band The Byrds. “To everything (turn, turn, turn) / there is a season (turn, turn, turn) / and a time for every purpose under heaven.” It sounds almost like a “whatever will be, will be” kind of thought. Everything happens as it is supposed to happen, when it happens. There is fatalism in these verses, for some; predestination, for others. But neither has to be found there.
The preacher (or Quohelet as the author is called in the Hebrew) is pointing out a hard truth and then offering an invitation. The hard truth is that stuff happens. We know that. We have another phrase, but “stuff” works best here. And we don’t know why stuff happens, good stuff or bad stuff. That’s the ignorance that the preacher refers to in verse 11. We don’t know why or whether God sends or doesn’t send stuff. It is futile to try and figure it out. Wisdom literature from the Bible is full of this futility. If you think you can figure out what God is doing in the stuff of this world, go spend some time with Job. That’s the hard truth.
Given that truth, what can we do? Give up. That’s one option. Just give up and do what you want. Many have taken that route. But that’s not the only option. Nor is it the one that the preacher advocates. “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” (Eccl 3:12-13). That’s the summation verse of this daunting text. So, what’s the invitation? To live!
We are called to live fully, to live aware, to live alive. Jesus says in John that he has come that we might have life and have it abundantly. The invitation is to live every moment. We are to live the good moments in celebration and joy; the difficult ones, in prayer and in confidence that we are not alone, but alive in suffering as well as in prosperity.
Matthew 25 takes it even further. It’s the same idea, just deeper. To live alive, Jesus says in the Gospel text, is to live connected to those who hurt, to those who need, to those who have been pushed to the margins of our society. The invitation is to live outwardly, seeing all the people, and being present in ways that bring relief and bring hope.
Watch Night is about wanting to see Jesus in the year that stretches out in front of us. Matthew 25 tells us how to be sure to see Jesus in the coming year. It is about making a commitment to live fully engaged, not turning away from brokenness or difficulty, from suffering or need, but ready to meet them where they are.
Are we there yet?
Watch Night (Freedom's Eve) - Rev. Dennis Oglesby, from The African American Register.