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A Christmas Reflection – 2017

God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn its people. God sent him to save them! (John 3:17)

Over the many years of being a church pastor, I found that preparing Christmas services became increasingly frustrating. Like me, you may have noticed that it’s the same story every year, about the birth of a child in Bethlehem! How could I re-tell it in fresh and thought-provoking ways?

I wonder if the publicity teams of the big retailers feel similar pressures to mine. It’s the same story (please spend money on our products and in our stores), but how can it be told differently each year? It’s no small matter; so important is the run-up to Christmas to our economy (a few billion pounds) that one major department store is willing to cough up £7 million for its Christmas campaign and TV adverts.

As disciples of Jesus who are ‘Walking the Way’, we might criticise all this as shameless marketing to encourage us to spend; it misses the true meaning of Christmas. And maybe if we protest and shout loudly enough we can drown out the commercialist hype.

But hang on a minute. Rather than dismissing these ‘please-spend-money-you-don’t-really-have-on-things-others-don’t-really-need’ TV adverts out of hand could we perhaps see connections to God, to our lives as disciples of Jesus, to something of the true meaning of Christmas?

So when I look closely I see stories about love: a young couple brought together by a lost shoe (Debenhams); Kevin the Carrot saving his beau from a pea (Aldi); two sisters who continued to love one another through the ups and downs of their relationship (Boots). And what is Christmas but in part a demonstration of God’s love for us? God who knows us intimately, yet continues to love us despite ours for God waxing and waning; God who comes to save us, not from a pea, but from ourselves through the Child who one day would lay down his life for the world. God’s extravagant love.

In other adverts I see the tensions and worries associated with Christmas, whether trying to cook a turkey (Tesco) or get presents delivered on time (Argos). And what is Christmas but in part God’s response to a world of tension and fractured relationships? By risky, vulnerable incarnation; by an invitation to join a journey with Jesus to set things right both within ourselves and with others; by root and branch Spirit-reform of human beings. God’s radical action.

And I see also acknowledgement that our society comprises diversity; people from a selection of different faiths, cultural backgrounds, and gender relationships are depicted enjoying Christmas and being together (Tesco). And what is Christmas but in part God’s move to break down barriers built because of difference, and invite those once excluded? The first people to pay Jesus homage, the Gospel writers tell us, were not the religious faithful but shepherds and star-gazers, who for many people of the day were some of society’s disreputable outsiders or disparaged Gentile foreigners. Oftentimes it seems that God’s grace is scandalous.

So yes. In-your-face commercials to entice us to splash out. But perhaps, over Advent and Christmas, I might find myself in conversation about these adverts with family and friends. Which is my favourite? What’s the story? Where is God in all this? And what might Kevin the Carrot have to say to me about Jesus?

Revd Tim Mountain – Tutor for Northern College (URC)