Many African-American Christians will attend Watch Night  services tonight, to praise God, to express gratitude for successes achieved or trials overcome in 2009, and to renew hope for the year to come.
The tradition is traced back to 1862, when African-Americans were awaiting the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. But the custom may have roots in John Wesley's practice of holding covenant renewal services  to mark the New Year. (The link contains a useful discussion and worship resources for New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.)
It's a powerful witness to begin the year in worship and devotion, a strong statement that God should be first in our lives. Contrast this with the secular directive that New Year's Eve is supposed to be the wildest, craziest event of the year. What kind of pale imitation of "joy" is experienced on command, on a pre-set date and hour? Compulsory fun: not the best kind of fun...
Here's wishing us all a safe, healthy, grace-filled 2010.
John James, M.A.
Clergy Health Initiative