There has apparently been outcry among Christians after a bakery chain's publicity stunt put a sausage roll in the place of Jesus in a traditional nativity scene. In an effort to promote a £24 advent calendar full of vouchers for the high street giant's products, Greggs released a promotional image of one of their trademark pastries surrounded by three wise men. Whether the resulting outrage was genuine or slightly manufactured by a media which so often characterises believers as joyless placard-wavers, is somewhat unclear. But if it's real, I think the sense of offence, injustice or even low-level persecution is misplaced. Instead, I think we should be delighted.
Danny Webster at the Evangelical Alliance correctly asserted to BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat that 'Every year some company creates a Christmas controversy for commercial gain. It seems to get earlier each year', but wisely added that the organisation was 'not too outraged' by the stunt. In fact, I'd go even further and call such advertisements a brilliant opportunity to get people talking about Christmas, and to prove that we're not the joyless nutters that the media like to paint us to be. Here are four reasons why I think that far from being offended by the Greggs ad, it should fill us with Christmas cheer...
It has got people talking about the real meaning of Christmas
In an age where we're increasingly seeing traditional images and messages stripped out of our culture's Christmas celebrations, the Greggs advert at least reminds everyone that the traditional nativity story is important...even if they have given it a bit of an amendment. When it became national news, it meant that two things were receiving that impossible-to-buy promotional airtime: Greggs sausage rolls, and the Biblical story of Christmas. We can no longer take it for granted that the media will tell our Christmas story at this time of year; this story forced them to.
It puts Jesus in his central... 'roll'*
Yes, the advert takes Jesus out of the picture and replaces him with questionable meat and pastry, but when we look at it, our brains do the work to remember what should be there. In fact, the unsettling effect of substituting Jesus for something else actually causes us to think about him far more than seeing yet another nativity baby lying there in the manger. The story – and the image – therefore creates a great jumping-off point for conversations at the water cooler. E.g: 'Brian, did you see that picture of the sausage roll? Would you like to come to know it as your personal saviour?'
The sausage roll does have something sort of profound to say about the incarnation
Just go with me on this for a second. The point of the way in which Jesus came to earth is that he completely turned upside down the expectations of these who were awaiting his arrival. They were waiting for a mighty king; he came as a defenceless baby. They expected a powerful man who would revolutionise their society by taking his place as their leader on earth; he was born into the humblest conditions and created a revolution from outside of the power structures. There is nothing more humble and down-to-earth than the Greggs sausage roll – it's inexpensive, unglamorous and the guilty pleasure of a million people who would deny their love of it in front of friends. If you're going to reach for a metaphor, Jesus was far more sausage roll than fillet steak – even though that's what the people waiting for him had ordered.
It's an opportunity to show that Christians have a sense of humour
I'm still unclear whether any normal people were actually upset by the advert, or whether the outrage was just a necessary part of the story - pre-planned, just like the resulting 'apology'. PR people aren't stupid, after all. Yet the one thing we can all do as Christians is disprove that part of the narrative in our conversations with friends, colleagues and neighbours. Those who know we're believers will probably ask if we were offended by the stunt, so it's a great opportunity to let them know that we're fine with a bit of playful humour, and that as Christians we're primarily offended by global poverty, racism and sexual violence, rather than an apparently-blasphemous sausage roll.