Watching Robert Zemeckis’ “Polar Express” on Christmas Eve with little ones…has to rank up there as one of the most magical experiences. I’ve done this with two generations of children in my family, and the wonder that has been produced is just glorious and contagious.
This movie was cutting edge when it was release in 2004, employing new motion capture technology to computer animation in surprising and wonderful ways. And – showing Tom Hanks in a surprising number of roles.
The story follows the experience of children who are given the opportunity to travel to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to witness the start of Santa’s journey to deliver presents to children across the world. They experience some quite hair raising experiences on the way. Some of them are epistemological in nature…is this experience real or not? Is Santa real or not, and do I really know the truth about what’s happening? Some of the experience are just plain scary…when things go wrong and the train seems derailed and doomed to crash. Yet – they somehow manage to stay on the tracks. Even when the children get to their destination…the accidents continue and they find themselves rattling down the tracks into the bowels of the city alone and frightened. Yet – despite this mishap – they somehow find themselves in the centre of Santa’s Christmas project … and join him in time for his departure.
This movie is not just entertaining because of the reactions it produces from little ones. It’s a great tale in its own right. And – it touches some very foundational needs within us the audience. As the children are given a parting exhortation from the conductor to LEARN…to RELY ON…to LEAD and to BELIEVE…we sense that the filmmaker is also talking to us too.
This movie doesn’t just touch on personal needs, it also reflects some important aspects of the Christian message.
First – the most valuable things in life are the ones we don’t yet see. Our hero is struggling with his belief in Santa…and the scary hobo he meets on the journey feeds his fearful scepticism. “Seeing is believing.” Yet the ultimate message of this movie, and the Conductor of the train, is that “sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”
In the end, it wasn’t belief in Santa that was the biggest thing. It was belief in their calling in life to lead, to trust, to learn and to believe.
For us, the most valuable parts of life tend to be the things we can’t measure and quantify. The love you feel for the children you are sharing this movie with – the hopes you have for their future lives – the precious memories of Christmases in the past.
And the God who knows us and loves us:
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.” John 20:29, Msg
Second – we each carry personal responsibility in life. Our choices matter. The movie communicates this clearly. Is our hero going to board the train or not? What’s more…is he going to choose to believe…or give up his belief in Santa? And yet – the positive results of continued belief are real. He does get to meet Santa in the end…he sees him with his own eyes. And so his decision to continue to believe is clear.
The other children on the train faced similar choices. Would the little girl exercise leadership, even though it got her into trouble? Would the little kid from the other side of the tracks…decide to trust his new friends even though he wasn’t sure he could?
We each carry personal responsibility for our choices. Some people asked Jesus:
“What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:28-29, NIV.
Third – there’s a theme that runs through the movie from start to end. Is this experience real…or is it simply a dream? The more fantastical things get…the less likely its real. Right? Well, the message of the movie is the opposite. Grasp hold of this, even though you aren’t sure its true. Let the truth of this experience reveal itself to you.
Fourth – stuff happens in this film that is sure to derail everything…yet it doesn’t. They are sure to be blocked by a herd of animals and miss Santa, or drown in a lake and die. They are sure not to arrive at their destination at all. And yet…they do. And they don’t just find themselves there on the side lines. In spite of all the mishaps they experienced, they eventually find themselves sitting in Santa’s present sack…at the very centre of the big man’s mission.
We are sure to experience multiple setbacks in life. We can find ourselves in a position where we are sure we have blown it for good. But from God’s perspective, no situation is too far gone. His guiding hand can lead us through any situation we find ourselves struggling through.
“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy 33:27
Fifth – I had it once. But now…have I lost it? Our hero leaves the North Pole shocked and saddened at the thought of losing his special gift from Santa. And yet, before the credits roll, he realises that once the big man gives you something, he makes sure you get it…whether or not you have a hole in your dressing gown pocket.
Life used to make sense to me. But lately…things just seem to be going from bad to worse. The God we read about in the Bible makes promises to us that apply an important idea to our lives. The whole story of the Bible is about mankind having everything and yet rejecting their relationship with God. But it’s God himself who takes on the responsibility to rescue us from the broken existence that has resulted from our decision. He calls us to safety, and promises to do what it takes to keep us safe.
“May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together – spirit, soul and body – and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, The Message)
However our life looks right now – hope is found in God. He longs for us to get on board with him this holiday season.