Christmas television adverts have become something of annual contest between retailers. Competition seems to run wild to see which can score the most hits on YouTube, and which has the most endearing storyline. This year’s offerings are no different. Whether it’s the fairy tale story of Aldi’s “Kevin the Carrot saves Christmas from the Wicked Parsnip”, or the real world celebrity fronted solution to the question “What makes Christmas?” - the “Must-Have” whatever with magic and sparkle from M&S.
I wait for the John Lewis advert each year with anticipation. Each one is a big budget mini-drama designed to get under our skin and into our wallets. Such adverts unashamedly tug on our heartstrings, like the offering from 2011 featuring a little boy who just can’t wait for Christmas to come. He wakes on Christmas morning to leap from his bed. He then dashes, somewhat surprisingly, past the large pile of presents. Instead he treads carefully into his parents’ bedroom to deliver the present that he has been waiting for so long to give them. The message is clear: the best thing about Christmas is giving presents to the people whom we love. And we wouldn’t disagree.
Along with others, even though I grew up listening to Elton John, I found the John Lewis 2018 edition a bit disappointing apart from the ending. Against the soundtrack of “This is your song”, The Boy and the Piano traces his musical career back to the gift of his first piano as a young boy. It ends with the punchline “Some gifts are more than just a gift.”
However, it was a tear-jerking Christmas film that was made for just £50 which brought more of a tear to my eye. Love is a Gift, a short film that depicts a man patiently waiting for Christmas to arrive so that he can open a special gift from a loved one, was originally made in 2014. The maker decided to share his video online again this year and has received a tremendous response from thousands of viewers.
In the film, the man can be seen preparing for the festive period by decorating his Christmas tree and ticking off the days on his calendar in the lead up to December 25. When Christmas finally arrives, the man opens up a cassette box at his kitchen table and takes out one of the tapes inside, which he then listens to using a Sony Walkman. In a heart-breaking moment, the viewers then learn that the tape was left to him by his late mother, who recorded several tapes for him to listen to every year on Christmas following her death.
"Merry Christmas poppet," his mother says on the tape. "Another year has passed. I wanted to start this one by saying something I haven't said yet, which is thank you. Thank you for taking the time to remember me…Never forget how much I love you." As a tear falls down the man's face, it's then revealed that the tape is the last that his mother recorded for her son. “Before I go” she says, “let me tell you about the happiest day of my life-the day you were born”. The advert ends with the tagline: "Love is a gift - that lasts forever. Merry Christmas." The touching nature of the film has resonated with scores of people.
The John Lewis Christmas advert in another year was also heart-warming. It showed a lonesome man sitting on a bench on the moon, who was noticed by a little girl looking out from her bedroom window through a telescope. For Christmas he was amazed to receive a telescope attached to some helium balloons from the girl. Again,the reminder to show people that they are loved is also very helpful. The storyline, however, was a bit far-fetched. And yet I wonder how believable the advert that told the real Christmas story would be? The creator of the universe, God himself, being born as a human baby to a very ordinary couple. His first visitors included a bunch of unwashed livestock handlers and several camel riding academics who definitely didn’t consult the John Lewis gift catalogue. Doesn’t sound very plausible does it? And yet that is the wondrous event that we will be celebrating as excitedly as ever at any and all of our Christmas events and services across the parish.
In the gift of Jesus, we see the love of God coming down to earth. God is constantly giving himself away, that is the very nature of love. And we are called to reflect that in our lives, in the giving of ourselves in love to God and neighbour. Some gifts are indeed more than a gift. Jesus is the real “Must-have” that makes Christmas. The impact of this gift of Jesus is more than magic and sparkle. It is Jesus (not Kevin the Carrot) who will save the world. The happiest day of God’s life is when each of us is born anew to love him in return. Remember how much we are loved and remember Jesus is the love-gift of God. "Love is a gift - that lasts forever. Merry Christmas."