Christmas Watchfulness & Vigilance: Past & Present
Christmas historically is a time that many give thanks and appreciation to those who provide the many private and public
services that are the woven into the fabric of our daily lives. These neighbors, friends and citizens are called to a vocation of vigilance and watchfulness while we work, sleep and play.
For thus says my Lord to me:
"Go, station a watchman, let him tell what he sees."
The watchman cried, "On the watchtower, O my Lord, I stand constantly by
and I stay at my post through all the watches of the night."
"Upon your walls ... I have stationed watchmen; never, by day or by night,
shall they be silent."- Isaiah 21:6, 8, 62:6
In the United States the existence of a city or local police department is rarely given a second thought. In the countries
recovering from the civil turmoil of the “Arab Spring” a respectable, dependable police force is a priority for public safety. Those countries suffering from civil war and genocide it is only a dream, a dream that may take several generations to establish.
The origins Massachusetts’ city and local police departments can be traced back to 1631. The English system of sheriffs,
constables, and night watch were easily adapted to the colonies. The county sheriff, appointed by the governor, became the most important law enforcement agent particularly when the colonies remained small and primarily rural. The sheriff's duties included apprehending criminals, serving subpoenae, appearing in court and collecting taxes. The sheriff was paid a fixed amount for each task he performed. Since sheriffs received higher fees based on the taxes they collected, apprehending criminals was not a primary concern. In fact, law enforcement was a low priority.
In the larger cities and towns, such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia constables and the night watch conducted a wide variety of tasks. The night watch reported fires, raised the hue and cry, maintained street lamps, arrested or detained suspicious persons, and walked the rounds.
This Christmas let us be watchful and vigilant of the many gifts of family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and especially those who are the eyes for those who peacefully sleep.