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The real message of Christmas?

moon 397SXRev Suzanne Cooke has been reflecting on the true message of Christmas as she enjoys the John Lewis ads on TV.

I’ve been curious to know what is going on around the fascination with the big TV Christmas ads this year.  On a purely pragmatic level it seems that John Lewis, in particular, have hit the jackpot – their adverts, produced since 2007, have very much captured the imagination and hearts of the country. 
Apparently, the campaign began with a conscious effort on the part of the store to  ‘avoid images of excessive consumerism’, but John Lewis can have only dreamt of the success that has followed.  Phenomenally popular, they now create a media storm when they are released in mid November and over the past 5 years have clocked up, between them, something like 15 million views on the John Lewis You Tube channel.
Having re-watched them all, I think that you would need to have a heart of stone not to be moved by some of the story lines.  Very obviously narrative in feel, beautiful to watch and with cooler than cool soundtracks, the ads are clearly touching a nerve as far as our collective British sensibilities are concerned.  (This year Radio 1 was even asking you to record yourself watching the ad for the first time and send it into the show). 
I’ve often wondered about the creative process and reasoning that goes into producing something so very popular, because in many ways John Lewis has shunned many of the popular strategies of the other major high street stores.  Not for them are the endless images of gorgeous people in beautiful clothes – oozing a sense of opulence and hedonistic fulfilment.  No – what we have instead are stories – stories of children, of animals, of snow-people!  And when you watch them all, the feel they give is of tiny tales filled with innocence and selfless giving.  Of the little boy who was prepared to sacrifice his own friendship to give his best friend, a penguin in this instance, the partner he longed for.  Or the snow man who risked everything to bring the love of his life a gift she needed. 
Clearly these ads cannot be universally loved - they tend toward the over sentimental and certainly present an idealised picture of life in our times.  In their popularity, however, what they do seem to reflect is a strongly felt longing to regain something lost – lost childhood, lost innocence, lost hope maybe – and a seemingly genuine desire to be the best people we can be, to surpass at this one special time of year our normal selfish selves and go out of our way to show the special people in our lives that we love them.
What interests me is that the values that come across so strongly in these adverts are so very Christian – selflessness, love, hope, generosity.  And yes I know that the whole thing revolves around the desire of a very large organisation to grow their profits, but the fact that the country has responded as it has to these ads reassures me that, on some level, people do actually know what Christmas is and what it isn’t. 
That on some level there is an instinctive understanding, or maybe a need, to be reminded of why it is that we do what we do at this time of year.  Because it could be argued that the gift (the real subject of the ads?) is just a catalyst – it’s not really about the gift in itself – but about the sentiment, love, which lies behind the giving of the gift.  That fundamentally we give at this time of year as a mark of the importance of love in our lives. 
So for me the message that comes out of the enormous popularity of these ads is that on a very deep level people do actually get what we Christians like to call ‘the real message of Christmas’ and that what people might actually need from us is a different kind of message – one that acknowledges that our awesome God is already working in their lives and hearts. 

Read about Norwich's answer to the John Lewis advert here
The Moon image is courtesy of Hilario Regueiro López from http://www.freeimages.com/


Suzanne CookeRev Suzanne Cooke is the priest-in-charge of the Upper Tas Benefice in South Norfolk and the founder of Soul Circus, a regular creative, experimental service supported by the Diocese of Norwich and the Youth Task Force.  You can find out more at www.soulcircus.org.uk

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