Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What Shall I Bring the Newborn King?

This morning NPR’s Marketplace Morning Report reported on a Christmas-themed commercial in Italy that has been pulled from the airwaves after a Catholic priest complained.

The ad, which you can view here (it’s in Italian but you’ll get the idea), depicts, in cartoon style, the Wise Men visiting the Holy Family. Three of them bear the traditional gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But there is a fourth Wise Man who comes bearing a case of Red Bull energy drink.

The priest who complained about the ad thought that it was blasphemous.

I don’t know if it was blasphemous. I would prefer the slightly milder term “tacky.” It is in bad taste to make light of the birth of Jesus in order to sell a product. I’m not so much offended by the content of the ad as I am by the use of the Nativity for commercial purposes.

On the other hand, I laughed at Monty Python’s Life of Brian and I suspect that a few people made quite a few bucks off of that effort.

And, lots of folks make lots of money marketing Christian items that are Christian-themed. Some of them are tacky; some are not. Of course, such a judgment is a matter of taste. (In a related matter and as a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I need to report that a friend let me know that you can in fact buy an inflatable Nativity for your yard. If you want to.)

Tackiness aside, while it lacks the symbolic significance of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which were gifts fit for a king, I couldn’t help but wonder if Red Bull would have been such a bad gift, for Joseph and Mary if not for Jesus. As Marketplace reporter Megan Williams said, in introducing her report, “While an exhausted post-partum Mary might have appreciated a caffeine boost…”; we can indeed imagine that an energy drink might have been of benefit in such a circumstance. Appropriateness is contextual, after all.

Besides, what if the case of Red Bull was the best gift that the Wise Man could produce?

The Little Drummer Boy of the beloved Christmas song “had no gift to bring that was fit to give a king.” So what did he do? He offered the one thing and thus the best thing that he had: he played a song for the baby Jesus. “Then he smiled at me—pa rum pum pum pum.”

I think that Jesus gladly accepts the best gift that we can bring, even if someone else thinks it isn’t worth much.

What shall I give Him,
As small as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I'd give Him a lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I'd do my part.
I know what I'll give Him,
I'll give Him my heart.

--Christina Rossetti


Joshua Ruffin said...

I think you're right on here. Rampant commercialism just comes along with the Christmas territory, and this is really no different. I'm sure Mary would have appreciated a caffeine boost, not to mention a morphine IV.

Sara said...

I think that this is really good. It's like when Charlie Brown lets out his signature "agh" when he sees that even his dog has given in to the commercialism of Christmas. I just watched that movie last night. It always puts me in the spirit.