I feel a great affinity with Buster the Boxer, I think we both have a tendency to some over excitement and perhaps jumping the gun a little bit. In the advert the trampoline, this perfect gift, wasn’t entirely meant for Buster, or indeed the other woodland critters, but they did get their first, and blimey did they enjoy it?!
For me, Buster and all the other little fluffies who have a bounce on the trampoline are like the shepherds and the wisemen. This promised gift, this expected messiah was big news for the Israelites. They knew the history, they were the chosen people, so good upstanding religiously observant Jews should be first in line to see the baby right?
Except, no, that isn’t what happened, we know the story all too well. Some roughty tufty, smelly and probably a bit sweary shepherds were personally invited down from the hills to come and see the baby, to witness this gift first. Then who joined them? Foreigners! People who weren’t even from here saw the signs, understood what they meant and knew where to look.
And that is the whole point isn’t it. This long awaited gift, this promised Messiah is a gift for absolutely everyone, regardless of who they are, where they came from, what they believed and what other people thought of them. Just like that trampoline, this baby boy, Jesus was a gift that everybody would love.
I wonder if you’ve ever thought much about Jesus’ earthly family. We’re probably all aware of Mary and Joseph, but the rest of the family don’t really get a look in the Christmas story, or anywhere actually. There’s mentions of brothers elsewhere in the Gospels that not all Christians manage to agree on, but that’s about it.
We don’t even have much about the holy family past Jesus’ birth and before his 30s. Just a story about Jesus when he was 12 recorded only in Luke. But we do know that this little family endured huge journeys in their life together, incredibly dangerous upheavals for anyone, let alone new parents with a young child.
Our Nativity stories start with that well known journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a long and probably uncomfortable journey for Mary and Joseph. But the birth narratives end with a journey too, a far more panicked and dangerous one. Mary , Joseph and the child Jesus flee Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus before he ever had a chance to say or do anything revolutionary. Time is spent away, in safety in Egypt. But they don’t stay there for ever.
By the time Jesus’ public ministry begins the family are back in Nazareth, so at some point, somewhere along the way, there must have been a home coming. The little family, although they definitely weren’t teddy bears travelling on a plane, came home to their wider family. I wonder what that home coming looked like.
This Christmas as we travel our own festive journeys, whether they be across the world, or just round the corner, and s we spend even just a little bit of time with people we love, perhaps we could choose to remember that little holy family and those first dangerous Christmas journeys.
It is a bit weird to think that at the heart of Christmas and indeed the entire Christian faith hinges on the birth of a child, isn’t it? A baby unable to do anything for himself, incapable of feeding himself, holding his own head up, who once would have laughed at peekaboo was the long awaited and prayed for Messiah.
We were all once those babies, useless, incapable and inherently wonderful babies. And even when we grow up, even when we’re grumpy teenagers like the boy in this advert, the inherently wonderful created nature of that baby still lives inside each of us.
Perhaps that is the very reason that the incarnation needed to happen the way it did. For the wonderful, created nature in each of us, for the inner child in each of us, to take notice the Messiah needed to be like us.
And sometimes we do miss it, we ignore the beauty of the baby boy in the manger because we’re too grown up, too busy, too weighed down with the weight of the world, and maybe just a bit too grumpy. But every Christmas is the chance for our inner child to notice again, the baby boy who is just like us, and is God with us.
We are officially in the season of Advent, the long wait, the big countdown to Christmas Day. And while it may feel long, very long to us- especially the littler of us for whom a day feels like 10 whole years. I think that first wait, that first countdown, first Advent from creation to the birth of a tiny baby in a stable was longer… for God.
We were merrily, blissfully unaware like the little boy’s parents, not knowing or expecting such a gift to be given in such a way. But God knew the gift, God knew the plan and understood how perfect this gift would be for God’s beloved creation. How very much we needed this gift. That wait, until the right time, until all the right people were in all the right places, until the stars (literally) aligned must have been endless.
I don’t know about you, but I can imagine God becoming as impatient as the little boy in the advert. Far from this little boy being as grumpy and spoilt as he might initially seem, there is a desperation in his behaviour. He is desperate to give the perfect gift, literally cannot wait.
The Old Testament is littered with pointers to the coming gift. God gave clue after clue as to what this gift would be, how it would be given, where it all would happen. The promised birth of the messiah was God’s worst kept secret.
Each Advent as we watch and wait for Christmas, there is a challenge for us to remember the God who counted down the long wait for the gift that God couldn’t wait to give…
I don’t really remember Christmas adverts being as big a business as they currently are when I was a kid. I do remember the Coca-Cola advert being that hallowed signal, that tipping point of “NOW it feels like Christmas.” I also, must have done some singing along to the Toys R Us jingle every year. Perhaps I just never really paid attention to the “boring” adverts that weren’t for toys until I was that little bit more grown up.
For me 2008 sticks in my head. I was 18, Waitrose had a Christmas advert out that year that struck a chord in me- somewhere inexplicably deep inside me. “How?” I thought to myself, “How can you watch this and not connect to the true meaning of Christmas? The greatest story ever told?!”
And then it just kept happening. Every year. John Lewis, Waitrose, Sainsburys, McDonalds, even Amazon all connecting with profound truths and deep theology at the same time as simply trying to make as much money as possible. Sure sometimes the links were tenuous, and not all of these corporations have the shiniest business ethics, but these adverts snuck in to Christmas assemblies and talks I gave. Indeed, there was one year where I managed to write six years’ worth of John Lewis ads into one assembly- the year of the now legendary penguin costume.
This year, as the festive adverts roll on to our screens once again, connecting with the story which beats within all of us, I thought I’d put 13 years of ideas in one place.
So come with me, if you will, this Blogmas (every day of December) and think of me as the ghost of adverts past, as we consider the theology of Christmas adverts- the greatest story ever sold…
Well here we are, 47 days after Ash Wednesday, we are here at Easter Sunday. The day death died, alleluia Christ is risen!
Easter reminds us that we can believe in hope beyond our earthly lives. Easter reminds us that as many sunsets that we see here on earth, as many tears as we shed as we watch the sun set, that we need not lose hope. The sun will rise. The sun will always rise, perhaps not here on earth, perhaps not in this life but we can have hope that, one day, somewhere else, the sun will rise. Just as The Son rose, and conquered death and grief.
I want to finish this blog, and this writing project, with a poem by John T Baker. A poem that picks up this theme of sunset and sunrise, and incidentally the poem that was read at my mum’s funeral.
Along the shore I spy a ship As she set out to sea;She spreads her sails and sniffs the breezeAnd slips away from me.I watch her fading image shrink,As she moves on and on, Until at last she’s but a speck,Then someone says, “She’s gone.”Gone where? Gone only form our sightAnd from our farewell cries;That ship will somewhere reappear to other eager eyes.Beyond the dim horizon’s rim, resound the welcome drums,And while we’re crying, There she goes!They’re shouting, Here she comes!We’re built to cruise for but a whileUpon the trackless seaUntil one day we sail away into infinity. Lex xx
One of my favourite quotes is the one below, I’ve held on to it for many years now.
When I’m having rough grief days, when I feel ambushed by grief, when the world isn’t understanding, when I’m yearning for the before- I try to remind myself that I’m going to be ok, because up until this point I have survived.
Grief can make us feel like we are never going to be ok ever again. But chemically, grief is our brains doing the hard and painful work to ensure we can and will be ok once more. Grief is the process of our brains chemically rewiring after an attachment relationship ends, ensuring that biochemically we can feel joy again.
I know I’m going to be ok, because I have made it this far. I know I’m going to be ok, because my brain has done the hard work, so that I can be ok. I know that I will be ok, because there is no other choice.
Grief doesn’t end, we don’t get over it, but we can and we will be ok again.
I spoke the other day about my Pinterest grief board, and Pinterest being the kind of site that recommends things it thinks you will find interesting- this was what it had for me this morning, and I loved it, and it felt really relevant for today’s prompt.
I think most people, when they are first flung into grief, ask how they are ever going to cope. The comment that I often got from friends, as a bereaved young person, was that they didn’t know how they would cope. And the truth is, the thing you learn quite quickly when you’re grieving, is that you don’t know how you cope, there isn’t a an equation to it. You just cope. You just do. Because there isn’t another choice.
And how do we cope, and carry on coping as the shadows grow longer? You do what this quote I’ve just found suggests. You sit with it, when when you don’t want to. Even when it feels counter intuitive and like the very thing that constitutes not coping. You sit with your grief. You sit in the shadows and you feel it. And as you feel it, over the weeks and months and years, you realise that you’re coping.
And that is how I will carry on coping every day, I will sit with it, even when I hate it, and I will feel.
(I like today’s and yesterday’s prompts… it’s like a double bill, a two parter!)
We can’t stay forever in the before, because grief catapults us into the after. During the first throws of grief- the first weeks, months and years- we fight against the after. We feel we have been wrongfully and rudely ripped from the before. We rage against the world and fight to get back to before. Something that isn’t actually there anymore.
But with time, while we don’t get over things, we find a place in the after. A place that makes sense for us, we realise that while our person may not be in the after with us, love exists in the after. There is life and joy and light in the after. We still exist in the after, even though we thought it might kill us when we were first dumped there by grief.
And, with a bit more time, we can take our bag of shattered fragments, our broken hearts, our fractured spirits, and begin to rebuild in the after.
I have this theory- well it’s not just mine, but I wrote and teach about it a lot- that when someone we love dies we split our lives into before and after.
I’m very good at telling you if something happened before or after 2006, because I can remember if my mum was alive for it or not.
Grief is trying to live our lives in the before. We yearn for what life looked like before grief came in. We look for the people from our before. Grief is our bodies catching up to realise that we don;t live in the before anymore. We can’t stay in the before though, because time is marching on and the after stretches ahead of us.
But we can visit the before, that’s what remembering is. Allowing a few moments each day to remember, to grieve and to sit in the shadows of before. That’s what anniversaries and holidays and special seasons are for, trips back to before. When someone recalls a memory, and mentions their name, it’s like a phone call to the before. Visiting graves, or other sacred spaces are thin places where the before and after meet.
The before is the past, and we don’t live there anymore. There is huge pain in that, as there are people and places that we cannot bring with us, but we are in the after, and here there is life.