Church Matters, November 2015

TheRevAdvertising is big business at Christmas. Even in early November this year’s TV advert by John Lewis was eagerly awaited to see what story line they would develop and what song they would use. Alongside that we usually get the festive and jolly adverts for Coca-Cola and a myriad of stores all suggesting the perfect gifts for our loved ones. It’s all part of the Christmas season and can potentially add to that sense of wellbeing, nostalgia and expectation, just as long as you have the finances available.

Into the advertising fray this year comes a clever TV advert by Mulberry – the ultra high-end clothing and bag company. The scene is a couple sitting in a cosy lounge area with a roaring fire in the background. Packing boxes are strewn around – they’ve obviously just moved in. The gentle singing of a choir fills the air. The man gives the woman her present in a loving gesture. On unwrapping, she finds an expensive looking box with the name “Mulberry” elegantly displayed. “Oh my God, Joe,” the woman exclaims. She then opens the box to reveal a lavish red Mulberry leather bag, and lovingly takes it out to carefully gaze at its splendour – “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life – it’s absolutely amazing”. The woman turns to the man to offer a warm thank-you kiss, and then there is a sudden rough knocking at a door. In comes another man, this time a more workman-like character, saying “I heard you had a new bag”. “Yes, I’ve just opened it” comes the reply, to which the workman-like character approaches saying “Lordy, Lordy”, and gazes at the marvellous wonder that is the bag.

And then arrives a shepherd, equipped with crook and sheep. He now approaches the scene and carefully, lovingly receives the bag to hold in awesome wonder. Gazing at the sight in his hands, he says “I wouldn’t normally go for red, but that really works, dunnit!” Then three other men arrive with gifts, all sporting Christmas cracker paper crowns. They pass the red bag gently between them, gazing on its splendour, uttering the phrases “It’s a thing of wonder,” “It’s quite stupendous,” and then hand the bag back to the woman.

At this point the first man comes back into camera-shot, the sheep “bah” in the background. He looks around at the visitors with a quizzical look and says, “Guys, it’s just a bag…” Everyone laughs hesitantly, but all settle to gaze at the bag on the woman’s lap. The camera pans upwards to show a single bright light, and then the words “Mulberry – Find the Perfect Gift” appear. Apparently the retail price of the bag is £900.

At 2 minutes 8 seconds it’s quite an advertising masterpiece, cleverly done. It picks up on the biblical Christmas story and seamlessly mixes in the commercial side of Christmas. I suspect that many Christians will find it offensive, but the reality is that the advert is quite a true reflection of where society has arrived in terms of this festive event – a smattering of God stuff amidst the present giving and feasting. I wonder how many people will attend a retelling of the nativity this year and end up saying, “Guys, it’s just a baby…” Thought-provoking stuff.

Christmas can be a wonderful time. It is a time like no other in a year. The Christian perspective is that it reminds us of when God gave us his most precious gift ever – his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t come as an all conquering King, but literally stepped into the mess of the world as a baby, in fulfilment of all the prophecies of old. This gift to us would grow into a man who then showed us what it is like to live closely to God, and what the true values of God’s Kingdom are like. As a man, Jesus would die for us, so that we may have no obstacles in our relationship with God. As a risen Christ, Jesus meets with people today, still stepping into the mess of people’s lives and bringing hope and restoration.

The Christmas story for real. It’s a whole new bag.

Rev. Tony Stephens