One of our Christmas traditions each year is to take time to watch our favorite Christmas movies. We never tire of them even though we know some of the lines so well we can quote them easily. Each one seems to connect with a family memory of some sort whether from our own childhood or time with our own children. Not all of them focus on the story of the Christ Child’s birth and yet many of them pick up the themes that are the center of Christmas whether they intend to do so or not.
One of our favorites is Polar Express that lit up the screens of movie theaters everywhere in 2004. The animation is magical and the musical score a delight. At first glance what you discover is how the movie tells the story of one little boy in particular who has stopped believing in Santa Claus. Then one Christmas Eve a magical train appears outside his bedroom window and the conductor invites him to come aboard to travel to the North Pole with a group of other children.
The boy is skeptical about getting on the train because he doesn’t believe Santa Claus exists, but reluctantly decides to do so. Most of you know the story from seeing the movie. Among the many things that happen on the trip and after they arrive at the North Pole, the most poignant is when Santa appears just at midnight heralded by trumpets and cheering elves. Reindeer adorned with beautiful sleigh bells are prancing excitedly, but the boy cannot hear the sound of the bells because of his unbelief. He is so struck by how everyone else can hear them that he makes the decision to believe and once he does, he can hear the bell.
As we watched the movie a few weeks ago, some of the images and themes really stood out as a metaphor for the true Christmas story of the birth of Jesus. You may consider what I am about to share as a bit of a stretch, but bear with me as I try to pull back the view of the story to allow you to see what I began to sense.
Many are like the boy in Polar Express who didn’t believe in Santa Claus. We haven’t seen God so how do we really know He exists. Many at the time of Jesus even saw the child who grew into manhood and still did not believe this was the Son of God.
The boy couldn’t envision how Santa Claus could know every child on the earth and manage to be everywhere on Christmas Eve. We can struggle to wrap our minds around an all knowing and all loving God who is at once everywhere and yet knows each of us intimately and calls us by name.
The boy learned lessons about friendship, sharing, and giving while on the trip even with others who are not like him. Our life in Christ is about that too. It means joining in relationship with others who may not be at all like us in any number of ways and learning lessons about what it means to be selfless, sacrificing, and sharing.
One of the powerful lessons the movie depicts comes at the end of the movie where the voice of the boy (now a man) shares about how so many others stopped being able to hear the bells after they were older, but he had determined to believe and had never given up so the bells still rang for him.
I need to decide to believe in the Babe in the manger despite all the things about it that may not make sense. Once I make that decision and He lives within my heart, I can hear Him speaking to my heart, mind, and spirit, even as the boy could hear the bells once he decided to believe in Santa Claus. But I must continue to nurture that belief throughout my lifetime in order to continue to hear His voice whether through His Word, through creation, through a message or a piece of beautiful music. If I allow everything else in my life to crowd out my belief in Him, I will not be able to hear Him because I am not even listening any more.
The conductor of the train portrayed by Tom Hanks speaks one of the most memorable lines in the movie. Look at what he says:
“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”
The line reminds me of the words of Jesus in John 20:19 (MSG):
Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
The boy had never really seen Santa Claus so he didn’t believe. For many, they have not seen Christ in the flesh so they cannot believe. For those who make that decision, the verse in John speaks of the blessings that will follow.
The other scene in the movie that made me smile and think of the time ahead is the scene at the North Pole. Just at midnight Santa appears to the sounds of trumpets, bells, and cheering.
We who believe are inching ever closer to midnight while we anticipate the Second Advent.
Will we hear the trumpets and bells and be cheering in joy?
Will WE believe?