Friday - December 31st
Scripture to Read Today: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:18
Family traditions connected to a local church's services can be a rich experience. Our family faithfully attended Twin Branch Bible Church in Mishawaka, Indiana, during my childhood. We rarely missed regular or special worship services or other gatherings at the small church we called home. So I knew what our family would be doing throughout my childhood each New Year's Eve. We would be at Twin Branch Bible Church's Watchnight service.
Watchnight services have a historical and significant place in modern church history. Wikipedia describes the tradition of New Year's Eve Watchnight services this way:
A Watchnight service is a late-night Christian church service. In many different Christian traditions, such as those of Moravians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, Adventists, and Reformed Christians, Watchnight services are held late on New Year's Eve. This provides the opportunity for Christians to review the year that has passed and make confession, and then prepare for the year ahead by praying and resolving. The services often include singing, praying, exhorting, preaching, and Holy Communion.
As Watchnight services bring in the New Year by glorifying God, they are seen by many Christians as being preferable to "drunken revelry" in popular cultural celebrations that are commonplace in some localities.
That is an excellent summary of New Year's Eve services in the 1970s at Twin Branch Bible Church. We usually counted down the final seconds before midnight, singing the hymn "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" while holding hands in a circle in the church sanctuary. As mentioned in the Wikipedia summary, our church's Watchnight service included communion, singing, praying, and reading Scripture.
We also viewed what we were doing in that church as a solid contrast to the drunken revelry happening in the world. Others were frivolously saying goodbye to the old year and welcoming in the new year. Instead, we were soberly acknowledging that human history grinds on while we wait and watch for Jesus to return and make all things right. As the New Year arrived, our watching reminded us that Christ would return at any time - hopefully, that would be in the new year.
Over the years, I have looked back fondly on those gatherings of the Twin Branch Bible Church family. But, I have also recognized the importance of encouraging each other throughout the year with the hope of our Lord's return. We should regularly remind each other that the world is groaning, but one day Jesus will return to restore everything.
When the Apostle Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 how Jesus would return for Christ's followers, he gave an uplifting vision of that incredible moment. He emphasized that we do not have to worry about those in Christ who have died. Also, we don't have to worry about Christians who are alive when Christ returns. He provides vivid imagery of our hope in the second coming of our Lord. Paul concludes this inspiring passage with, "Therefore encourage one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Let's do that. Let's encourage each other with the hope of Christ's return.
Whether or not you will be a part of a Watchnight service today, find ways to remind others that Jesus will return soon. He may return for His bride, the church, in 2022. On the other hand, he may return today - before we even enter 2022.
Life can be overwhelming, but as Christians, we live with the hope of the wondrous return of Christ!