My children attend public school. And each year, the kindergarten classes get to view the movie version of The Polar Express while sitting in “train cars” of their own making wearing pajamas and drinking hot chocolate. This year, I have a kindergartener, so guess what we built last week for last Friday…
Until last year, I had never seen the movie version and only knew the book. While I was familiar with the story and that the little boy at the center of the story had been told by friends that Santa was not real, I felt like the book paid more attention to the events rather than the little boy’s search to “believe” but the movie, on the other hand, made a very big deal about the little boy’s need to believe. So much so, that when the conductor stamps his ticket, it bears the word “Believe” on it.
Joseph asked me to make a “ticket” to put on the side of his car and I did. We put on it “Polar Express” and “Admit One” and his name. At the last minute, I decided at the bottom to mock-punch the word “Believe” on it.
Now, as many of you may remember, we don’t “believe” in Santa Claus, but we “pretend to believe” and Christmas is still fun and magical. It was the right decision for our family, but we understand that most families “believe” and that’s okay too. But, as an adult I know who teaches religious education made so much sense when she acknowledged that Santa is a wonderful symbol of love, joy, sharing, giving etc but should not be our focus in the Christmas season.
When I punched “Believe” it meant more than a child’s belief in a fictional character based upon a real man who not only dropped gifts down needy families chimneys and paid brides’ dowries but also slapped heretics. It meant that this season is so ripe for fostering belief in our children in the one true God who loves us so He would send His only Son to earth to die for our sins. He was not the worldly king that David had been and the Jewish people of the time expected He would be. Nor was He bringing fire and brimstone at that time as John the Baptist foretold. God chose Him to be born as helpless as a newborn in the humblest of places and He is the one who made the blind see and the deaf hear and the mute speak. He drove out demons and allowed paralytics to walk. He could forgive sins! And if God could choose and did choose, to have his only Son born in Nazareth, of all places, is it not also possible that He could create in us greatness for His great purpose? When we sing Away in a Manger, we are reminded of just how humbling the circumstances were that our Lord and Savior entered our world and our human condition.
When I tell my children I want them to believe, I want, first and foremost, for them to believe in the all-powerful, ever-living God who loves them, who will extend His forgiveness when they acknowledge their sin and ask for it, and who can make all things possible. I urge all Christian parents, whether you “believe” in Santa or not. To make sure your children understand that Jesus is THE reason for the season. Nothing and no one else. His birth should mean more than any presents or decorations or behaving for an elf toy or anything else. The true awe of the season is knowing it is the birth of the Son of God.