However you dress it up …

I cycled past this hoofing great advertisement yesterday morning. It’s in Balham, on the corner of Bedford Hill and Rossiter Road. Despite the early hour and my weary condition, I couldn’t help noticing it. This is surely what ChurchAds.net were hoping for.

They’re a charitable group made up from a coalition of Christian organisations that includes Premier Christian Media, the Evangelical Alliance, the Church Army and CPO. I’m familiar with some of the names who make up the council of reference. Though we don’t move in the same circles; we may not even be on the same theological page. But I like their work.  They’ve been behind the Christmas promotional campaigns over the past few years. You can see some of their previous work here.

The poster is certainly arresting. It wouldn’t look out of place on the front of the Sunday Times colour supplement. The shepherds are re-cast as cycle couriers. The wise men are entrepreneurial businessmen who bear luxury gifts; a Swarovski crystal perfume bottle, a Faberge egg and a Damien Hirst diamond encrusted skull. Mary looks stunning in a dress by Zara and Joseph cuts a dash in a John Varvatos jacket. The shoes by Church’s is a nice touch!

The poster campaign has provoked some reaction in the blogosphere. The Rev Dr Peter Mullen, writing in his Daily Telegraph blog, really didn’t like it. His main beef seems to be that because the redesigned nativity characters are clad in expensive designer clothing, the church is somehow complicit in the rampant materialism that so often accompanies Christmas. I think he’s missed the point. The intention of the ad is not to say ‘it’s OK to dress Christmas up in designer gear’ but instead ‘given that Christmas is already dressed up in designer gear, let’s not make a further mistake and miss out on the centrality of Christ’. And I don’t say that because I rate my interpretative ability higher than The Rev Dr’s. It’s what the designers of the poster say about their work. The website says

‘It’s the meeting of Christianity and high street consumerism, with Christ in the middle’.

And Francis Goodwin, the Chair and Founder member said this,

‘With recent events, from looting of high-value goods to recession and job losses, and with millions of people heading for shopping centres, there can be no better time to remind people that consumerism and expensive brands are not the point of the festival’.

That’s pretty clear then. We can at least appreciate what the authors were aiming for. And let’s not be unfair. This is a poster for goodness’ sake. What the designers can accomplish is limited by the medium that they’ve chosen. It’s not a sermon where we can qualify everything that we say and round off the edges with nuance and clarification. You’ve only got one hit with a poster. And I think they’ve nailed it.

On her blog, Ruth Gledhill has a fuller analysis and some great quotes from the likes of John Sentamu and others who back the campaign.

As for me, I really like it. It works for me. And it lifts my spirits every time I’ve been passed it since. I’m glad that it’s there. And I’m not alone. Apparently 61% of people liked the campaign poster. And 41% said that it made them think about the true meaning of Christmas. It’s hard not to be pleased with that. I’d be happy if 6 out of 10 punters left my Christmas sermon liking what had been said about Christ and 4 out of 10 prepared to think further.

But I like it for other reasons. I like the fact that the gifts are lavish and luxurious. It befits someone who’s worthy of extravagant displays of adoration and affection. I like that Jesus is unseen; untarnished by the consumerism. I like it that Jesus is centre stage; the focal point of the action. I like it that everyone at the scene is captivated by who he is.

I just hope that in amongst the materialism that accompanies my Christmas, I can keep my eyes as firmly fixed on my Saviour as I will on my presents.

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