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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The Unexpected Guest?

When does Christmas start in your household? At what point is it socially acceptable to put up your tree and start playing Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ at full pelt?

With the regularity of a liturgical calendar, the Christmas adverts on TV arguably mark the beginning of the festive period for many of us. Nowadays, the Christmas ad is as much a part of the season as Boxing Day sales, broken toys, and left-over turkey.

Although it’s perhaps lost something of its lustre over the years, the John Lewis ad is still something of a benchmark. This year’s – ‘Unexpected Guest’ – sees our young hero befriending an alien who has crash-landed their ship in his local woods.

Overcoming his initial hesitancy, he introduces the visitor to the delights of the season: wearing novelty jumpers, eating mince pies, throwing snowballs, watching schmaltzy films. And all to a stripped-back cover of the 1984 classic, ‘Together in Electric Dreams’, the tale of friendship reaching a climax with the lyric ‘love never ends’.

The ad’s tagline – ‘For a Christmas as magical as your first’ – interprets their story for us, inviting us to reach back to something more basic, more lasting, more secure.

Where might that be found?

In part, it’s found in that which the ad itself captures – in befriending strangers and sharing traditions. Treating people as unexpected guests rather than unwelcome intrusions makes sense for those who are themselves part of the story in which God loves, Jesus serves, and the Spirit ministers – in self-giving tenderness towards us. Sentiment aside, how might we demonstrate over the festive season, and beyond, a generosity of heart and home?

But in a storyline which raises the possibility of an ‘unexpected guest’ coming to earth, and with a tagline which invites us to rediscover the magic of our ‘first’ Christmas, we might be encouraged to think of the very first Christmas of all.

Whatever we make of Christmas TV ads, the longings they reflect about relationship, togetherness, and harmony come together in the one who is truly able to offer them. It’s not that the sentiments are wrong. It’s that the solution to our sense of lack is located in the wrong place. The ads lay out a need we have that can be met only in the one who came that first Christmas to set in motion a divine rescue plan – Immanuel, God with us.


Antony Billington
Theology Advisor, LICC


Image: John Lewis 2021 Advertisement 


  1. Thanks Antony, great thought. I guess my response, having seen the ad, would be just a little different. You could say its story of the little boy befriending the alien, and the ‘message’, very powerfully & imaginatively captures something of the FEELING of the love & tenderness of God – as you indeed allude to. The Christian challenge is, as CS Lewis for instance recognised (and to a high degree met) in his portrayal of Narnia & Aslan, to be similarly imaginative in the contemporary ways we point to Immanuel. A challenge that in my own poetry & story work I’m engaged with & passionate about…

    By Bruce Gulland  -  10 Dec 2021
  2. Delightful reading of and response to the John Lewis ad, thanks as ever to Anthony Billington.

    By Luke Walton  -  10 Dec 2021
  3. Thanks Bruce. Grateful, as always, for your reflections. Plus, probably no surprise that I agree with you. I’m aware this year’s John Lewis ad had its haters, but I liked it, and there were several directions in which I could have taken it. As always, I felt the constraints of the the 400-word limit! All joy to you – Antony

    By Antony Billington  -  10 Dec 2021
  4. Thanks so much for this, Anthony. I was particularly “nailed” by your phrase, “Treating people as unexpected guests rather than unwelcome intrusions”. Provoked me to think of – and be similarly “nailed” by – such parallel phrases as, “Receiving requests for help as opportunities to serve rather than nuisance disruptions to my plans”!

    By Alan Cottenden  -  11 Dec 2021

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