Selling Christmas with Puppies and Babies
|Elisha Minnette Photograpy|
Yet, as much as we push back against and lament the over commercialization of the season, the church gathered is also, in all honesty, selling something at Christmas. With our pageants, angels, shepherds, carols, and candles, we too are selling something that we assume will have universal appeal and an eternal shelf life. We are selling this: that God came into this world as flesh and blood, sweat and tears, to reveal God’s true essence and nature: love. Not judgment, rejection, exclusion, punishment, trial and testing, but divine love. And that moment, what we call the Incarnation, changed everything. What Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elijah could not do, the child born in tiny Bethlehem of Judea had to do. He had to be a savior like no other: saving the world, saving the nations, saving our soul, the present and future. Nearly two thousand years later, you and I are here listening to how it all began.
So, yes, we are selling something at Christmas. We have a durable, solid, road-tested product to sell to our war-weary, on-edge, fearful and complicated world. And we can do better. To whom might we turn to boost our sales forecast for the next year?
Could we learn a thing or two from Madison Avenue? How would Madmen’s Don Draper – the television fictional advertising guru who could literally sell ice to Eskimos – approach the Jesus born in Bethlehem account? Where would they start?
We know from experience as consumers, that there are two things that sell products on television and print year in and year out. Those two things are puppies and babies. So I contend that we need some puppies and babies to sell Christmas.
There is proof to back this up.
There was a recent focus group that showed four images and asked which was most likely to tug on their heartstrings. (Adweek Media/Harris Poll) Participants were shown images of “a puppy”, “a baby”, “a sweet old lady” and “a sweet old man.” 41% chose a puppy when they saw it in a commercial. One-third said a baby (34%) is most likely to do so. Not such good news for sweet old lady (3%) or a sweet old man (2%). Another study by the Marketing Bulletin showed that a cute baby increased the odds by 88% that people would respond to a survey. A cute animal increased response rates by 42%.
With this hard fought data research in our pockets, cue the animals and the baby.
Joseph went Bethlehem “to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
A manger is not the whole crèche but the feeding tough for animals that doubled as a crib for the Christ child. We can imagine the animals being brought into the ground floor of houses in the cold winter with families sleeping above. Shepherds too were keeping watch over their flock by night in the fields when an angel of the Lord stood before them with the joy-filled news. “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Every Christmas pageant that I know has its core of shepherds and animals. Outdoor live nativity scenes use any animals they can find to enrich the experiences by adding cows, and donkeys and sheep, chickens, lamas, goats, and rabbits. They remind us the humble beginning of the child born as the Son of God.
Selling Christmas with animals. Check.
All stories have a beginning, a middle and end. The Christian story begins with the birth of Jesus to Mary in Bethlehem. Soon, the Wise Men arrive to worship the child and bring gifts from afar. We know that the child would grow, learn, and live into this true identity as the fullest expression of God to ever walk on the face of this earth. We know that he would teach and heal, lead and inspire, challenge and provoke. We are reminded by the crosses that fill churches of how his life ended. And each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we are reminded of his resurrection and the promise of our own.
Yet at the onset, Jesus was, as we all were once, an infant. A child. Vulnerable. Innocent. Needing love, warmth and protection, nurture and guidance.
The Christ child, at the center of this story, is a reminder that we have a unique message to the world that is ruled by might, ego, power and dominance and oppression.
The apostle Paul puts it another way: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong. 1:27-29
Selling Christmas with a baby. Check.
In the run up to Christmas we here at Christ Church have been praying, discerning, educating and advocating for the plight of refugees around the world, and especially for the compassionate response to Syrian refugees. During this holy season where children are at the center of our attention and hopes, it’s worth reminding ourselves why and when we began to pay attention.
It began in September with a photo. A three-year old Syrian boy, wearing a red T-shirt, shorts, and Velcro sneakers (the kind that are the easiest for parents to manage). His name was Aylan Kurdi, and he drowned off he coast of Turkey along with his mother and brother. It was one of those turning point iconic pictures, when the world took notice. And it was before it all became political and partisan.
For those of us gathered here– for whom a holy child has led us to believe or at least a desire to have more faith – we can and should connect what we believe, how we pray, to what we care about and work for in our world and communities throughout our lives. The spirit of giving, the desire for peace, the wonder that fills the air, and the hope that abides deep within us on this night, should and must last long past the gifts are opened and the decorations put away.
As it turns out, the true advertising genius of Christmas is not the fictional Don Draper but the most beloved of saints, Francis, who in the year 1223 created the first outdoor nativity scene.
It is the prayer of St. Francis that reminds us what you and I need to go out from tonight’s service and live, believe, and yes: sell.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.