Christmas – Dear friends

Dear Friends,
What’s the first sign that Christmas is really on its way? Not the cards and gift-wrap, which have been on
sale since August. Not the weather which, as I write, is still unseasonably mild. No; one of the sure signs
has to be the launching of the big stores’ Christmas Adverts.
These lavish productions are widely acclaimed for their creativity and for reflecting the mood of the nation.
This year, mindful of families feeling the pinch, many have reined back on their images of indulgence.
Morrisons and Waitrose, for instance, both honour the farmers who produce their Christmas goodies. John
Lewis, with their now-famous middle-aged skateboarder, have avoided all mention of shopping and chosen
to focus on kindness. The man, we discover, is learning to skateboard in order to make a new foster-child
feel welcome.
It struck me that there are parallels, probably unintended, between the John Lewis advert and the book of
Matthew, our lectionary gospel from Advent Sunday onwards.
Matthew, like John Lewis, features a middle-aged man going out of his way to welcome a child: in this case
Joseph, defying social convention to stand by Mary when she finds herself pregnant, not by him, before
their marriage. The man in the advert has a prosperous home, with generous presents being wrapped.
Matthew shows us a king’s palace, and lavish gifts being given by the Magi. In both advert and gospel,
though, the real gift is not the value of the item, but the love and reverence in which it is given.
The advert ends with a message that 108,000 children are in the UK care system. Many are there because
their homes were not safe or their lives were in danger. Matthew goes on to tell of the infant Jesus and his
parents, being forced to flee to save his life and seek asylum abroad.
Matthew’s Christmas story strips away all sentimentality. Jesus is born into a world every bit as
complicated and messy as ours, full of moral dilemmas, political pressures and vast inequalities. This is the
world Jesus came to save. And while the advert wants us to trust in a store that values humanity, Matthew
invites us to trust and rejoice in God who enters into our humanity and raises us to new life in Jesus.
I make no recommendations for where you do your Christmas shopping. But I hope that you and your
family are able to find the presence of Jesus among the presents round the tree, and that you will find
peace and joy.
Every blessing,