Midnight Mass – Advertising Christmas

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I’m going to disturb our quiet reflective mood with a very short Quiz.  I spent half an hour on YouTube looking at the most popular Christmas television adverts of 2013, and if I give you the tag-line I wonder if you can give me the product or store that used it in its advertising this year: 

Who suggested we “Give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget”

(John Lewis – I’ll come back to this campaign…)

Who said “Believe in Magic and Sparkle!”

(M&S)

“The moments that make Christmas Special
brought to you by _ _ _ _ _ _ _”

(Sainsbury’s offered a selection on home videos of family Christmastimes)

The taste that unites

(KFC – I hadn’t seen this advert on television, but it is very funny!)

There’s nothing better than Christmas

(Tesco – showing someone go from youth to old age
fortified by Tesco-bought Christmas dinners!)

“This Christmas lets make the people that make us feel good, feel good”

(Boots showed a yoof in a hoodie acting as a modern Santa
with Boots-bought goodies)

Whatever you wish for this Christmas, make it fabulous with _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

(Debenhams trying to look classy)

Go on… it’s Christmas

(Morrisons – with Ant urging Dec to eat a living Gingerbread Man)

With their “Sorry I spent it on myself” collection which store had the tag line “I little something for them; a bigger something for you.”

(Harvey Nichols)

Some of you may be bracing yourself for an anti-consumerist diatribe now.  “He’s going to rant about the irrelevance and triviality and kitsch that dominates our modern celebration of Christmas.”

It’s right that I passionately believe the truth expressed in that work of genius ‘The Grinch who stole Christmas’ – the Grinch, who hates Christmas decides to destroy it by dressing up as Santa and breaking into every house in Whoville on Christmas Eve to steal all the presents, decorations and food.  Then he stands on the hill overlooking Whoville to look down on his work and hear the howls and cried on Christmas morning.

But then:

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same! 
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

So I’m just going to take it as read that we all believe Christmas is more than presents (otherwise we wouldn’t be in Church at midnight!)

But I was interested by the theme of the adverts this year:  There were clearly divided into two categories – firstly ‘family’ was explored by several including KFC, Tesco,  and Sainsbury’s.  Christmas is often a time to get together with the people we love, but if that is now we define the season it becomes a very exclusive celebration.

Wendy Cope wrote the following short Christmas Poem, entitled ‘A Christmas Poem’

At Christmas little children sing and merry bells jingle,
The cold winter air makes our hands and faces tingle
And happy families go to church and cheerily they mingle
And the whole business is unbelievably dreadful, if you’re single.

I don’t want to criticise families getting together, but I want Christmas to include the single and the lonely and the bereaved and those whose family lives are complicated or unhappy. 

So I turn to the other major theme in this year’s Christmas adverts: fairy tales!  Morrisons enlisted the Gingerbread Man (and Ant and Deck); Baileys went for a sexy Nutcracker theme; M&S Christmas Advert borrowed from Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Aladdin and the Wizard of Oz, and was the second most viewed advert on YouTube.  However, the most popular advert online (by quite some way) was John Lewis’ “The Bear and the Hare:”

“There once was an animal who had never seen Christmas” it begins, and ends with the Hare giving the Bear an alarm clock to wake him up in the middle of his hibernation so that he can enjoy his first ever Christmas.  If you watch the advert on YouTube (as I did when I was preparing this sermon) it ends with the message “Click here to continue the story” so I thought I’d see what happen next.  I wondered what adventures they might get up to next – the bear awake for the first time in the midwinter…  Did they meet a funny Robin Redbreast, go ice-skating on a frozen lake, visit Father Christmas…?  I clicked on the link full of expectation: But, as the more cynical (or perhaps realistic) of you may have realised, what actually happens next is John Lewis’ online store.  The adventure ‘continues’ by me buying lots of stuff.

But the fairy tale is sweet.  There is something in this season that makes us want to believe in magic.

As a species we are hungry for the mysterious – earlier this month my son and I were queuing up to see “The Hobbit, Part 2: The Desolation of Smaug” – with elves and Dragons and Wizards.  Harry Potter was a phenomenal success in book and movie format. We also explore the fantastical in modern myths, like Spiderman, Superman and the Avengers, and myths are mixed with science in Star Wars, Star Trek, and my personal favourite – Doctor Who!

But at the same time as we enjoy ever more extraordinary tales religion is viewed with increasing cynicism:

The same people who thrilled to the tale of Bilbo Baggins and his magic ring object to the story of a Virgin giving birth or Wise Men telling the future by star gazing.  It’s strange that we are perfectly happy to be entertained by stories of Hobbits or Wizarding Schools, Jedi or Daleks but something about Jesus makes us uneasy.

The story of Jesus Birth was written almost two thousand years ago, describing events that happened just over two thousand years ago, in a world where demonic possession and miraculous healings were commonplace, a world where the Roman Emperor was seen as a god-in-human-form.

These stories of angels, Magi and stars that stop over stables and are profound stories which contain a truth more profound than history. 

There are some stories so profound that they can only be expressed in a story – ‘second chances are always possible’ is true, but those words do reach the deepest aspects of this truth in the way the Parable of Prodigal Son manages; ‘we are all one human family’ is true, but the Parable of the Good Samaritan goes deeper and can challenge and inspire us in more profound ways.

The stories of Jesus’ birth are puzzles to us, if we try to work out the history behind the piously written myth and legend we will find a fascinating academic study.  However, trying to discover the history behind the story is in danger of missing the point.

The point is that God cares about what happens here on earth.  That a young couple living in poverty, surrounded by scandal, giving birth in squalor are of infinite value to God.

The message of this story is that God or the deepest Reality is not about some supernatural Heaven, removed from human experience; God, the deepest and profoundest Reality is found in human experience.

And that baby grew up to teach that every human being – the poor and the outcast, rich and poor alike, and you and I, are of infinite value to God.

And that we live by these teachings our lives can be transformed.

Christmas is only the starting place, it’s the advert for Christianity the rest of the year.

Perhaps “There is nothing better than Christmas,” a time to “Believe in Magic and Sparkle!” we should let the story take root in our lives “Go on… it’s Christmas!”

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