Updated: Dec 17, 2022
2 Corinthians 4:17-18, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
My Dad wittily remarked that only at Christmas time are people open to being spiritual. You know what? He’s right. No other time of year are the words ‘spirit’ and ‘belief’ thrown around more. Granted, it’s largely toward having generous attitudes and belief in humanity. Still, they’re words that relate to the invisible side of life. What do we believe in? Why do we believe it? Everyone believes in something intangible. Sure, some claim not to believe anything they don’t see, yet even they tout invisible concepts like dignity, honesty, and morals. The film, The Polar Express, explores the very notion of belief itself—its importance and what that means. Little did I realize in my first viewing how well it understood the essence of true belief, and how strongly that message resonates with Christian faith.
The premise of The Polar Expresses’s story starts off simple. It’s Christmas Eve, and a boy is questioning whether or not there is a Santa. He doesn’t want the magic to end, but neither does he want to believe a lie. Lo and behold, a wondrous train pulls in right outside his house. It’s destination? The North Pole. Of course, the boy is skeptical, but after the conductor points out that his growing doubts makes this his crucial year, the kid jumps on—unsure if this train is anymore real than Santa or if it’ll somehow save the magic of Christmas dying in his heart. The further the train rumbles down the track, the boy soon learns he’s not alone. Other children struggle with their own growing pains too, and the fantastical events along the journey is meant to challenge all of them.
The fact that this story is set on a train draws to mind how beliefs drive people to what they think will fill their need. Thing is, is that belief going to fill that need or even take you someplace worth heading to? Some people believe in things without considering their logical destination. Still, even Christians, who know the end result of their faith, can struggle with doubt too. During the journey, the boy meets a mysterious hobo atop the train. He cares for the kid but willfully upsets him with pointed questions that voices his doubts. It harkens to that crucial phase when age comes-a-knocking on a child’s door. They once accepted the beliefs of their parents. Then they’ve grown up. Now they must either make that faith their own or choose another. It’s a fact of life, one that’s not limited to kids either. Thus, it’s understandable why the boy asks the hobo if the train is real. He wants to be told its real. The scruffy man, however, throws his question back in his face. ‘Does he believe it’s real?’ It’s his choice to believe—not anyone else’s. That concept, belief as a choice, is more real a truth than my younger self once knew.
You see, when it comes to the Biblical God especially, many demand proof before believing. Sadly, it’s backwards. Proof can’t come before belief. One’s beliefs don’t determine reality, but if you’re already convinced of something, you’ll only find reasons to believe it. Evidence doesn’t speak for itself. It’s the mindset interpreting the evidence that draws the conclusions. Thus, if you firmly believe God’s not real, you’ll always rationalize why it’s so. Even religious men like the Pharisees didn’t believe Jesus was God, even while He dwelled among them. That’s how blind and deaf we can be. Our first step to belief then isn’t to seek proof. It’s deciding if belief in Him is worth having. You’ll never recognize His clear evidence around you without supposing He’s real in the first place. After all, Jesus said only those with faith of a child will see His kingdom.
After the train stops at the North Pole, the boy discovers that even when he’s given ample reason to believe the real Santa is there, he still can’t see him. Nor can he hear the ethereal bells of his sleigh. The boy’s personal need for proof denies him said proof. Worst still, he realizes he’s incapable of sharing in the other children’s joy. The magic in him had died—his worst fear. It breaks his heart. Then he chooses to believe. Not for proof but simply because he wants what the believers beside him have. Suddenly, the sweet bells ring clear. The boy’s eyes see, and his ears hear. The joy he thought he’d never hold again returns twofold.
Deep down, I admit to occasional cynicism toward Christmas. The commercialized greed,...the severance of Christ from the Holiday....I feel like I lose the Christmas ‘spirit’ during such moods, but in truth, it can never be taken from me. It renews my joy. For I carry the real Spirit of Christmas, God Himself, in my heart—thanks to His child in Bethlehem’s manger. Just like The Polar Express bell that rings only for Santa’s believers, His Spirit still sings of His presence for me every day. He was and forever is the first gift of Christmas. Though unseen, He’s the most real magic there is. Only when I humbly accepted His invitation to come, did I receive eyes to see and ears to hear it. Thus, the true Spirit of Christmas can never die for me, nor for those who also believe in Him.
“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them....Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.” - The Boy (Grown up)
John 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me [Jesus].”
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