The movie The Polar Express has always held a special place in my heart; it’s got a lot of deeply special family memories attached to it. And of all the many Christmas movies my family watches each year, this is the one that best captures the spirit of Christmas. Tonight as we watched it together, I realized that its value goes so far beyond even that.
Throughout the movie, the main character (who remains nameless until the credits) struggles with belief in Santa Claus. He embarks on a journey to the North Pole to see Santa, but his doubts manifest themselves consistently throughout the story. When he arrives at the North Pole, he is surrounded by elves who are giddy with excitement about the occasion; it’s Christmas Eve and Santa is coming! Joy abounds and spirits soar. Anticipation hangs in the air. The elves shake strings of beautiful sleigh bells to ring their music in celebration of the moment.
Our main character sees the magic as an outsider and yearns to join in; but in his doubts he cannot hear the bells or see Santa, and his enjoyment is tainted by distress over his incomplete experience. In desperation he reaches down to retrieve a runaway bell and fiercely declares to himself, I believe.
The boy shakes the bell and it chimes the clearest note you can imagine. And looking up, he sees Santa standing above him, gazing down at him with such interest and affection.
Santa invites the boy to sit on his lap and to ask for any gift he wants. The boy asks for a bell and his wish is granted. Moments later when asked if the whole thing could just be a dream, he replies with absolute certainty and wonder, “No.” He sees because he believes. He leaves the North Pole with steadfast faith in Santa, and as the credits start rolling, his name is revealed to be Hero Boy.
How powerful. It was a stirring picture of the reality of faith in God. So often we don’t know how to place our faith in Him. We’re afraid to believe in case He’s not actually there to be believed in. But He gives us the freedom to choose that belief. And He reveals Himself so clearly when we’ve made that choice. When we choose Him by deciding to believe in Him, we are transformed; and just like the boy is Hero Boy because of his belief, choosing to believe in God is a heroic act for each of us. And with that act comes a heart-filling joy even more magical than Christmas spirit.