Nothing can stop us from the love of Christmas

Nothing can stop us from the love of Christmas

Posted: Tue, 30 Nov 2021 12:54

Nothing can stop us from the love of Christmas

According to the powers that be at the supermarket giant, Tesco, 'this Christmas nothing is stopping us', as we can sing along to the Queen hit, 'Don't Stop Me Now!' I am sure this is a challenge to the situation that we all had to experience last year when Christmas had to be somewhat subdued. As I watched their Christmas advertisement during my recent holiday in Ireland, I was struck by how government regulations make a difference in filming something as simple as a TV advert: in the Irish version, the characters wear facemasks as they shop, reflecting current Irish policy—in the GB version, the same characters are mask-less. However, the anti-vax brigade are up in arms as Santa is shown showing his Covid vaccination certificate to customs officials—something that 'non-Santa's' have to do to get into McDonalds in Castlebar! It certainly is a strange new world that we are living in, as we learn to come to terms with living with this deadly virus. New protocols have had to be put into place and, while it is difficult and different, we must learn to live with it. Simple things like observing physical distancing, wearing a mask, ventilating rooms, and liberal use of hand sanitizer can actually save lives. We are not being asked to do anything outstanding and our civil liberties are not being threatened. In this whole debate, much talk is made of the RIGHTS of individuals living in a democracy—however with every right that we have comes a responsibility. As the recent climate change conference in Glasgow showed us, we are all responsible for the gift of this beautiful planet. It is not good enough to point to politicians and expect them to do the job—we are in this together. Our care for each other is a testament to this.

This year we are told that another retailer, Morrisons make 'good things happen' with 'Farmer Christmas'. Their advertisement is their homage to those who provide and support our food chain, ensuring a heaving table for the Christmas dinner. We need to be reminded that our Christmas dinner, however simple or extravagant we wish to go, does not simply appear on the table, as if by magic. For months countless people have been working hard to ensure that you can have your pigs in blankets and that cheeky little Malbec that your mum raves about! The Tesco or Morrison's image of the Christmas table does not have to be the one you choose. If your table is surrounded by family and friends that you deeply care for, surely that is enough? The gold standard of the Christmas advert genre is, of course, John Lewis. Opinions are divided on their 2021 offering but they literally take up the theme of making the alien welcome. Created in partnership with the Adam&EveDDB agency, the John Lewis Christmas advert 2021 is entitled 'Unexpected Guest' and follows 14-year-old Nathan who spots an intriguing flashing light in the sky on his way home from school and makes a major discovery in the woods near his family home. Not quite sure what he was expecting, Nathan comes across Skye, a space traveller whose ship has crashed in the quiet forest. Initially uncertain, Nathan decides to reach out to her, adding a star and lights to his Christmas jumper to mirror her outfit. He shares with her the traditions of a British Christmas from mince pies, cheesy music, and decorating trees. Skye is able to return to her planet complete with her Christmas jumper. What is clear is that Nathan makes this stranger welcome—Skye is included and not marginalised. I wonder is it easier to accept a fictional alien into our homes, than to offer an authentic Christmas welcome to real life refugees and strangers who have moved into our communities?

Perhaps this year you could start a new tradition, so beloved by our Jewish sisters and brothers, of leaving a place free at the table for an unknown guest who just might join us. That place setting could remind us of a dear and loved family member or friend who is no longer with us—they might be gone, but they will never be forgotten. I am reminded of a lovely Irish tradition where the candle is placed in the window on Christmas Eve as a sign to Joseph and Mary that they are welcome into that home—Jesus need not be born in the stable, but in our welcoming hearts. Who do you need to welcome home this Christmas? Are we being challenged to write that all important email or pick up the phone and simply say 'sorry'? Clear communication is always so important, but especially at this time of year.

Vodafone, the communications giant, remind us the 'together we can' as they urge people to donate their old mobile phones to help those living in digital poverty. I suspect many of us will have the latest iPhone at the top of our Christmas wish list this year. While we can appear shocked at such rampant materialism as we approach our Christian feast, we do well to remember that mobile communication was a lifeline to so many during lockdown. The computer, tablet or mobile became our window to the world, as we conducted our meetings, attended class, ordered our weekly shop, watched hours of entertainment, and shared the Eucharist. Families were able to keep in touch, especially with those who were isolated and lonely. However, the response to the pandemic showed just how many people did not have this luxury, something that so many of us have come to see as our right. Vodafone are asking us not to throw our old phones and tablets away, as 'together we can' make a practical contribution to the lives of those who have not got the income to support having three old mobiles in a kitchen drawer, just gathering dust. If the cynical and cutthroat world of TV advertising can make us think of others, then, maybe, this media frenzy might just be worth it.

Having had a late 'summer' holiday back in Ireland, I have been especially taken with the Christmas advert for Dunnes Stores—M&S might have their 'St Michael' brand, but Dunnes have 'St Bernard'! This year Dunnes have chosen to 'make Christmas for everyone', and their advert shows two children very concerned that Santa will not be able to see their home because of an impending snow storm! Their selfish concern leads to a realisation that Santa might not be able to deliver to their friends too. This leads to a community effort to gather lights and to involve everyone: we see a wonderful kaleidoscope of people that make up modern Irish society—nobody can be excluded. In a wonderful blending of the ancient and modern, they use their light collection to illuminate their village's ancient round tower, which probably dates back to the ninth century. Their shared effort creates such a powerful light, that Santa can make it through the gloom and ensure that children receive their gifts, because Christmas is for everyone! I am not so shallow to propose that this is the central message of Christmas, nor am I willing to be the Salesian Scrooge and dismiss this as sentimental dross, pulling at our heart strings. There is a strong message of inclusivity in this Dunnes advertisement that we do well to take to heart. Politicians can so easily help to divide people and build walls instead of bridges. We need to challenge that philosophy and Christmas is a good place to start. While governments want to promote 'social distancing' in this time of pandemic, I prefer to see it as 'physical distancing'—we still need that social contact, even if it is through the laptop. Dunnes helps us to remember, albeit in a modern way, the age-old truth of Christmas that no virus can ever attack:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn 1:5)

Incarnation is something so powerful and profound that these adverts can only scratch the surface of the eternal truth that God came into our world, not like the alien of John Lewis, but really shared our human lot. The Incarnation is God's dangerous idea. It is God's outrageous choice to love us up close and personal. Not from the distance of eternal omnipresence, but in a specific place and time, and as a particular person, Jesus Christ. It is God's dangerous idea to create all things, as we see in the Book of Genesis, and to recognize them as VERY good. What is even more amazing is that God, knowing our sinfulness chooses to join us in that fully—even risking the betrayal, the heartache and suffering that He knows only too well. The great mystic, Thomas Merton helps us to appreciate the gift of the extraordinary in the ordinary:

We must…see all material things in the light of the mystery of the Incarnation. We must reverence all creation because the word was made Flesh. It is not just a truth which we know, and periodically meditate on. It is a truth which we must live by.

I pray that, as we enter Advent, these daily reminders we watch in between 'Coronation St.' or 'NCIS' will help to focus our minds on the upcoming celebration, the gift of God in our world. As a people of the Incarnation, we need to find God in the most unusual of places: if the Shepherds and Magi found their Saviour in the poverty of a Bethlehem stable, then I might need to get off my high horse and admit that that I can find a Christian message even in a television advert!

Written by Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB

Image: Cole Ciarlello on Unsplash

Tags: Homepage, Reflection, Salesians of Don Bosco