When does Christmas start in your household? At what point is it socially acceptable to put up your tree and start playing Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ at full pelt? With the regularity of a liturgical calendar, the Christmas adverts on TV arguably mark the beginning of the festive period for many of us. Nowadays, the Christmas ad is as much a part of the season as Boxing Day sales, broken toys, and left-over turkey.

Although it’s perhaps lost something of its lustre over the years, the John Lewis ad is still something of a benchmark. This year’s – ‘Unexpected Guest’ – sees our young hero befriending an alien who has crash-landed their ship in his local woods.

This article is one in a series (Connecting with Culture) from the the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

Overcoming his initial hesitancy, he introduces the visitor to the delights of the season: wearing novelty jumpers, eating mince pies, throwing snowballs, watching schmaltzy films. And all to a stripped-back cover of the 1984 classic, ‘Together in Electric Dreams’, the tale of friendship reaching a climax with the lyric ‘love never ends’.

The ad’s tagline – ‘For a Christmas as magical as your first’ – interprets their story for us, inviting us to reach back to something more basic, more lasting, more secure.

Where might that be found?

In part, it’s found in that which the ad itself captures – in befriending strangers and sharing traditions. Treating people as unexpected guests rather than unwelcome intrusions makes sense for those who are themselves part of the story in which God loves, Jesus serves, and the Spirit ministers – in self-giving tenderness towards us. Sentiment aside, how might we demonstrate over the festive season, and beyond, a generosity of heart and home?

But in a storyline which raises the possibility of an ‘unexpected guest’ coming to earth, and with a tagline which invites us to rediscover the magic of our ‘first’ Christmas, we might be encouraged to think of the very first Christmas of all.

Whatever we make of Christmas TV ads, the longings they reflect about relationship, togetherness, and harmony come together in the one who is truly able to offer them. It’s not that the sentiments are wrong. It’s that the solution to our sense of lack is located in the wrong place. The ads lay out a need we have that can be met only in the one who came that first Christmas to set in motion a divine rescue plan – Immanuel, God with us.

 —

Antony Billington
Theology Advisor, LICC

This article is one in a series (Connecting with Culture) from the the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity.

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