Encountering the Unexpected Guest – A Christian Take on the John Lewis Christmas Advert 2021

Encountering the Unexpected Guest – A Christian Take on the John Lewis Christmas Advert 2021

So UK retailer John Lewis released their much-anticipated Christmas advert a little earlier than normal. Here it is…

Past Its Best or A Favoured Tradition?

Undoubtedly the ‘What-did-you-think-of-It?’ water-cooler conversations don’t seem to be as prevalent as they were a few years, and maybe that’s because we’re all a bit fed-up with the JL Christmas ad formula by now.

As The Guardian put it, “Sweet children? Check. Bittersweet ending? Check. Maudlin cover version of a song you once liked? Check, in this case a version of Together in Electric Dreams that sounds like it was performed by someone who has tumbled down a well and just realised nobody is coming to rescue her. Such a total lack of John Lewis products that, if you showed the advert to someone who didn’t know what John Lewis was, they would be forced to assume it was some sort of spaceship repair company? Check. It is, plain and simple, a Christmas ad by numbers.”

As a church minister, the Christmas season is full of opportunities to share the Christian gospel – and it’s often Christmas adverts that can provide moments of engagement. After all, they are the common Christmas stories we’re consuming. How does the Christian message both connect and confront? I was therefore keen to explore how this year’s JL advert might serve up opportunities to share the hope of Jesus.

Encountering the Unexpected Guest

First up, being entitled ‘Unexpected Guest’ gives an obvious opportunity to connect with the gospel. In one sense, Jesus was not unexpected. His birth and coming had been long-foretold – and yet when he arrived, he was dismissed by many. Though he is God’s promised king, he came in a manner that many did not expect. And of course, for many people today, Christmas goes by with little thought given to Jesus Christ. We have some sense of their being the ‘real meaning of Christmas’ – but that’s probably more likely to be articulated as family, community and love, rather than a response to Jesus and his kingship. And that presents an obvious call to action: will we welcome this Unexpected Guests into our Christmas? What will that look like? We’d do well to consider the responses given to us in the birth accounts of Jesus, the shepherds, wise men and even Mary and Joseph themselves.

The story of the advert itself is heart-warming enough (even if some have called the alien child a little ‘creepy’ too!): Strangers becoming friends. Generosity and welcome. Finding commonality over divides. Going back to our old Christmas traditions and sharing them with others. Of course, the emotional resonance of all of those is heightened by the reality that last Christmas we were so limited in the way we could celebrate.

Your First Christmas Or The First Christmas

There’s then the fact that the advert has the simple closing caption, “For a Christmas as magical as your first”. Again, this plays on the fact that last Christmas was so unlike other years. We long to go back to the familiar. But as heralds of the Christian gospel, we know that the true ‘magic of Christmas’ will only be discovered when we go back to the very first Christmas. To miss the baby in the manger two-thousand years ago is to miss the wonder (or, to put it another way, ‘magic’) of the Incarnation, of God entering our world to save.

Put that all together and it’s a heartening call to encourage people to discover the ‘magic of Christmas’ through encountering the Unexpected Guest at the heart of the *very* first Christmas.

What did you make of it?