Show someone they’re loved this Christmas. Recognise the slogan? Yes, it’s the John Lewis advert. Much admired, and much parodied, at least you can say it’s made an impact.
In case anyone has spent the last two months 100 foot underground in a reinforced steel bunker and so has no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll recap. In the advert: One evening in the run-up to Christmas, a bored girl looks through a telescope at the moon. Zooming in, she sees a crater with a little house in it.
A lonely old man lives there. The girl can see him pottering about, he forlornly watches the earth rise, but he cannot see her. Trying to make contact, she wraps up a message in an arrow, she throws paper planes at the moon but of course they all fall short.
Then, as Earth celebrates Christmas the old man sits alone on his bench. A bunch of balloons floats down, bearing a parcel. Eagerly he unwraps the gift – its a telescope! Now he can see the towns and streets, and his little friend waving at him. The ad ends with a tear-brimmed eye and the tag line ‘Show someone they’re loved this Christmas’.
And we all said ‘aaahh’. Or if you’re a scientist like me, you said ‘but his head would have exploded in the vacuum!’
I find the advert intriguing because showing someone that they’re loved at Christmas is very much what Christians are trying to do. It’s what we believe the festival is all about: we celebrate Christmas because God loved us so much and showed it by giving the greatest gift he had.
The ad also appeals because Christmas is a time for remembering those in need. We try to help those less fortunate than ourselves. In the ad the old man’s problem is loneliness and it’s solved by the gift of friendship. By giving us the gift of Jesus, God addresses humanity’s most profound needs.
We are all too aware of the darkness in the world – the darkness that St John spoke about in the reading, a darkness that we see all around us in violence and greed and destructiveness. But how do we address it?
Apparently the Times newspaper once had a debate on its letters page. Somebody had asked the question ‘What is wrong with the world?’ people wrote in with their answers. Many attempts, complex diagnoses and creative plans – but nothing that was truly convincing. Eventually a short letter appeared: ‘Sir, what is wrong with the world? I am’
The writer, G K Chesterton, had realised that much of what is wrong in the world around us can be traced within. We need to fix the human heart. We share responsibility. When any of us choose wrongly, disregard others, or live as if we were independent of the universe – that’s when the darkness grows. It isolates us from one another and from God. That may sound a bit negative, but the correct diagnosis of the problem leads to hope. God brings a solution.
In the advert, the old man’s isolation is cured when the little girl sends a gift, establishing a connection with him. At the first Christmas, God sent the most wonderful gift to us, his own Son Jesus. Incidentally, this is another great point of contrast with the advert – Jesus is not a fictional character. Admittedly in a recent survey 40% of adult Britons said they thought that Jesus was mythical or legendary – but you’d be hard pressed to find a serious historian who thought that. Historians might well disagree on whether Jesus was who he claimed to be – the Son of God – but there’s no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth did exist.
What God gives us in Jesus is more than presents. God gives us his Presence. P R E S E N C E. Jesus is God with us. He is God come to earth so that we can really know what he is like. The wonderful thing is that we can know God through Jesus. Not seen at a distance as if through that telescope, or second hand reported in a book. But God connecting with us, coming to earth, and always with us by his Spirit.
So we can be reassured: when Jesus talks about how we should live, he speaks with divine wisdom and perfect insight – and also true authority from human experience. We can be comforted, because Jesus has been though the challenges we face, he has endured suffering and has conquered it. Jesus Christ is a reliable sympathetic guide for life, a powerful presence alongside in trouble, and the source of strength within to overcome and do what is right.
He does even more. As the gospel reading says, the light shines in the darkness. Through his death, Jesus defeated evil (as promised in the reading from Genesis). On the cross, he allowed the darkness to carry out its full rage upon him, and so exhaust its power. He took the penalty for human sin so we could be forgiven and free. Jesus has the final victory, and if we follow him we will ultimately share in it.
One final thing about presents. If a gift’s going to be any good to you, you have to receive it. In the John Lewis ad, the old man could have been grumpy and let the balloons float past. He could have lacked curiosity and not opened the parcel. When he opened it he might have thought: ‘a telescope? What do I need that for? I’m fine on my own!’ Instead he understands his particular need and has both the courage and humility to accept the hand of friendship and assistance that is offered.
Christ asks something similar of us this Christmas. Will we be honest and realistic and admit we cannot thrive on our own? Will we acknowledge our need of Christ and accept the love, forgiveness and power he offers? God reaches out to us with his gift – it is up to us to receive.