Christmas is upon us once again. A wonderful time of community, sharing and faith. A time of light, gifts and endearing stories. And of course, Christmas films. We all have our favourites that we like to share with each other. I wonder what your favourite is? Perhaps the craziness of Elf, or the nostalgia of The Snowman, or cheesy romance of the Netflix American Christmas Romcoms? For me, no Christmas is complete without The Polar Express. And that’s not just because I’m a huge train buff, nor is it just because of the rosy, white Christmas nostalgia of the story. The story is a deeply encouraging exploration of the power of faith, and how important it is to believe.
The main character is a young boy. We meet him in his house preparing for bed on Christmas Eve. It’s immediately evident that he’s a big cynic. Strewn over the floor are magazines exposing the Santa myth. We overhear his younger sister anxiously talking with their father about her brother’s sceptical arguments on the physical impossibility of a workshop in the north pole and delivering to every child in the world. Everything changes when a magical steam train pulls up outside his house to whisk the boy away on a special visit to the North Pole to visit the bearded man himself! Thus begins an adventure where he’s constantly at battle with his scepticism, not quite being able to believe what he’s seeing around him is genuinely there. *Spoilers* Even when Santa appears in person at the end, all the other children can see him, but not himself; everyone can hear the sweet sleigh bells, but not this boy. Finally surrendering his cynicism and taking a step of faith, he declares with a tearful voice that he believes, and suddenly hears the bells, sees Santa himself, and becomes the receiver of the first gift of Christmas – a silver bell from the sleigh.
This film emphasises so much how important having a childlike faith is. To believe is everything, even when – no – especially when our cynical brains tell us otherwise. To grow in our Christian faith, to grow in our prayer life, belief is so important. Like this boy, we so often pray for things to happen, pray for the impossible but never quite believe that God really can do it. So often we have a niggling cynicism about every aspect of our faith, preferring to trust in what makes sense in our heads rather than trusting in God even when it makes no sense. As the boy said to the magical vagrant-like character travelling on the roof of the train;
“Well…I…want to believe, but…”
“BUT you don’t want to be bamboozled, you don’t want to be led down the primrose path, you don’t want to be conned or have the wool pulled over your eyes, you don’t want to be taken for a ride, railroaded! Seeing is believing, am I right?”
“Well, what about this train?”
“What about it?”
“We’re all really going to the north pole, aren’t we?”
“Are you saying that this is all just a dream?”
“You said it kid, not me!”*
So often we’re like this boy! The boy was so sure of his understanding of the world, so much so that even when he was on the train, he was convinced that it was all a dream. But for all his cynical certainty, he was wrong. The world was bigger than he thought. God is bigger than we could ever understand. Yet a believer with child-like faith understands more of God than a cynic ever could. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 18:3). To believe means we must leave our grownup cynicism at the door and take a leap of faith. “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1).
In our prayer life, let's take a step of faith like the boy. Adults, find again your childlike faith! Not everything needs to make sense in your head. Some things are beyond our understanding, and that’s OK. Teenagers and children, don’t lose your innocent faith. Don’t grow cynical. Believe!
“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”*
*Quotes taken from The Polar Express, Warner Bros 2004 film.