John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:16)
Gracie Mansion. If you name this home to someone my age or older, they will most likely tell you about a television program that consisted of a live screen shot of a fireplace with Christmas carols playing in the background. If the conversation continues, they might also tell you that Gracie Mansion is the official residence of the governor of New York. Officially titled Archibald Gracie Mansion, not every NY mayor has actually lived there, but many mayors have and all the mayors of New York have used the mansion for meetings and ceremonial events. In spite of those facts, what older New Yorkers mostly remember about Gracie Mansion is a Christmas Eve telecast of a fire in the hearth accompanied by Christmas carols. That was Christmas Eve for me. If we were waiting to open presents for some reason (persons of Norwegian descent open p[resents on Christmas Eve), or if we had already opened our presents and were simply sitting and enjoying time as a family, Christmas carols were playing from Gracie Mansion.
No one does this any more in the age in which we live. I recognize that. It is an archaic reminder of simpler days when our options for in-home entertainment were significantly more limited than they are today. As a kid I remember being fascinated by the fire. We did not have a fireplace in our home, so I found the idea of a real fireplace rather exotic. And I loved singing harmony for most of our Christmas carols, even as a kid. But, my childhood joys aside, I doubt that any TV stations in the metropolitan-New York-area still carry this fireplace venue anymore on Christmas Eve. They probably have an electric fire box insert now at Gracie Mansion like everyone else.
I share this because sometimes I feel that we have over-complicated our preparation for Christmas. We have so many bells and whistles on our decorations and preparations and maybe even our worship moments, that I wonder if we lose the simplicity of the message that speaks to us from the manger. The Christmas message that we prepare for during this Advent season is pretty simple. God chooses to invade human flesh so as to redeem it. How can we truly prepare for this kind of event that is so completely within God’s control? Maybe we are called to just allow it to happen to us, and let God be God. Maybe this companion festival to Easter Sunday is a reminder that we are not in charge of our spiritual destiny. Admittedly, we need more in our lives than a live feed from a fireplace with classic Christmas carols playing in the background. But slapping an LED light on any and every Christmas image available doesn’t seem to be the answer either. Maybe in your prayer life this week, you consider ways in which you can acknowledge and celebrate the power of God to transform your life through the core story of this Advent and Christmas season.