Monday, December 16, 2019

Christmas at the Movies: The Polar Express

“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”  – Luke 1:45

The Polar Express is a classic children’s book that was made into a 2004 movie starring Tom Hanks. You’ve probably seen it. If you have, you’ll recall that it tells about a young boy who doubts the existence of Santa Claus. It’s well past bedtime on Christmas Eve, and as he lies in bed, he longs to hear the sound of reindeers’ sleigh bells, which would prove to him that Santa is real. But the boy doubts that he’ll ever hear that sound. Although he really wants to believe, the honest truth is … his belief in Santa is hanging by a thread.

Of course, we know what happens next. The young boy climbs on board The Polar Express, where he and about 10 other children drink hot cocoa and embark on a thrilling, rollercoaster-like ride down a steep canyon and across a frozen lake. Eventually, they make it to the North Pole none the worse for wear. And throughout their long journey north, this young boy continues to wrestle with his doubts. He hopes that his midnight train ride will lead to a rekindled belief in Santa Claus. But he fears that it’s all just a dream.

I wonder if Mary had a similar reaction when the angel Gabriel appeared to her in Luke 1. Did she pinch herself to see if she was dreaming? Did she rub her eyes to make sure she wasn’t seeing things? I don’t know. But I do know that she was shocked, scared and confused. Yet despite all that, she listened intently to every word as the angel told her: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (vs. 30-33).

Mary responded to this astonishing news in verse 34 by asking only one simple question: “How will this be since I am a virgin?” Compare that to her cousin Zechariah’s reaction when Gabriel appeared to him a few months earlier. Gabriel told Zechariah that his barren and now elderly wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son named John (who would grow up to be John the Baptist). Like Mary, Zechariah responded with a question: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (v. 18). At first glance, Zechariah’s question seems very similar to Mary’s. But there’s a BIG difference. Zechariah asked, “How CAN this be?” Mary asked, “How WILL this be?” Zechariah responded with UNBELIEF. Mary responded with BELIEF.

On The Polar Express, our main character continues his journey of faith. The young boy comes face-to-face with his own unbelief when he meets a mysterious hobo who has some doubts of his own. The hobo tells him, “Seeing is believing.” Is that true? For many people, the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes.” Their belief is limited to what they can see with their eyes, what they can hear with their ears, and what they can touch with their fingertips. In other words, if they can’t personally experience it with their five senses, they don’t believe it.

But then, about 15 minutes or so after the hobo scene, the little boy is talking with the conductor. In just a few words, the conductor offers him what I believe is the greatest nugget of wisdom in the entire movie: “Sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we CAN’T see.”

And he’s right. We can’t see God the Father. We can’t see Jesus Christ. We can’t see the Holy Spirit. We can’t see heaven. We can’t hear eternal life. We can’t taste forgiveness. We can’t touch love, grace or forgiveness. But we know that they are even more real than the clothes on our backs. They are more real than the car you drive, more real than the chair you’re sitting in, more real than the screen you’re reading this on. For many people in this life, seeing is believing. But if you have chosen to follow Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you have chosen the path of faith. And on the path of faith, NOT seeing is believing. As Jesus said to Thomas after showing his doubting disciple the proof of his resurrection, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

When the Polar Express reaches the North Pole, the kids are surrounded by thousands of tiny elves. But the little boy still struggles to believe. He realizes that he needs to come to a point of belief, not after he sees Santa with his own two eyes, but before. As he stands in the village square, one of the reindeer’s sleigh bells is flung into the air and lands just a few feet from him. That is the moment he has to decide once and for all whether or not to believe in the one he cannot see. He picks the bell up and shakes it. Eyes shut tight, he whispers, “Okay … I believe. I believe!” And in that moment of faith, when he shakes the bell, its beautiful sound chimes out.

Zechariah responded to God’s word with unbelief. He was a “Seeing is believing” kind of Christian. Mary responded to God’s word with belief. She was a “walk by faith and not by sight” kind of Christian. Which kind of Christian are you? You’ve asked God to forgive your sins. Do you believe He has? Jesus said he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do you believe His words? Jesus said he’s going to heaven to prepare a place for each of his followers, including you if you truly follow him. Do you believe him?

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth proclaimed in Luke 1:45: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” So too will you be blessed as you believe the word of the Lord. I don’t know about you, but I believe! I believe!

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Join us for our holiday message series, “Christmas at the Movies,” Sunday at 10 a.m. at the new Dr. Ralph Baker School in Victorville. For more information, visit

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