I’ve only seen two Christmas adverts this year. Both of them were online. Both were posted on Facebook. And in different ways both have created a stir.
There’s the Sainsbury’s ad, which I’ll blog about in a while. And the other is the touching story of Monty, the John Lewis penguin. Seen it? I’ll be honest, I love it. It’s sentimental and sweet. It’s not going to make me shop in John Lewis. Never knowingly undersold they may be, but they’re clearly not working hard enough to check prices on Amazon. But what’s not to love about a bit of schmaltz? It’s why I watch ‘Love Actually’ every Christmas. I’m all for a break from the harsh reality of life, especially at Christmas.
And of course, we do that with the nativity. And that’s OK. The versions of that particular historical event enjoyed in primary schools up and down the country are edited, airbrushed, child-friendly adaptations suitable for public consumption. And I get that. And with three small children I’m grateful for it! I don’t want my kids being traumatised by the concept of delivery just yet. I’m very happy that in most nativity plays Mary produces the baby Jesus from behind the chair. Not from anywhere else.
As a parent I really like the edited version. But it’s dangerous. And yet, the sentimentalized sanitized safe version of the nativity isn’t my issue. Well not my main one anyway. My issue is what it does to Jesus. He’s domesticated. The Jesus of the nativity is sentimentalized and sanitized and safe. Everyone loves the baby Jesus. What’s not to love about the cheeky chubby chappy at the centre of the stable. He’s the perfect baby. If the account in Away in a Manger is to be believed, when woken by a herd of cattle lowing in his bedroom he was utterly indifferent and untroubled by the noise. It’s complete fiction, of course. Jesus was a baby just like every other. And like the rest of us would have filled his nappy at the sight of a stray Friesian in his bedroom!
The Jesus of the typical nativity is adorable. He’s domesticated. He’s safe. But listen to these words about him. They were spoken by a man named Zechariah, the Father of John the Baptist the prophet pointing people to Jesus. He uttered them shortly after the birth of his son. They’re about what Jesus will do as a saviour.
68 ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, (why?) because he has come to his people and redeemed them (in the gift of his son). 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation (a powerful way of saving) for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 (what I mean is) salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us – 72 (in order) to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, 3 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 (when he promised) to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. Luke’s Gospel, chapter 1
God’s redeemer is a man with enemies. And he fights them. On our behalf. He’s a deliverer who rescues his people from their opponents. He’s a warrior. A fighter. He wouldn’t look out of place in a World War 1 trench. He’s not a baby any longer.
But typically we won’t let him grow out of the manger. And we lose something because of that. We lose the reason for which he was sent. And so he’ll never be more than the cute but ultimately ignorable baby boy. He’ll certainly never be someone that we trust, or follow. Or worship. But Jesus was sent to save us from our enemies. Not physical enemies so much as our spiritual enemies; those supernatural powers led by the devil who want to conquer us, control us and keep us out of God’s Kingdom. The Bible is unapologetic about its insistence that what we can see in this life isn’t all that there is. There’s more. And it’s not all good. Jesus was sent to defeat our spiritual enemies so that they could no longer exclude us from knowing the God who made us for Himself.
Shop at John Lewis if you want. Or don’t. It’s your call. I really don’t mind. But please don’t sentimentalize and sanitize Jesus Christ. He may be a babe in a manger. But he didn’t stay there. And he mustn’t in our thinking. He grew up. And he fought and defeated our spiritual enemies so that we could be rescued back into a relationship with the God who longs to know us.