Listening for a sound I was afraid I’d never hear

Before we leave The Polar Express, I want to say there’s more in the screenplay that is meaningful, but this newsletter is short. If you’re interested, listen to the conversation between the boy and the hobo on top of the train about “the big man;” the conversation about the “hopelessly tangled, string puppets;” and the conversation about the time the conductor slipped and almost fell off the top of the train.

At the end of that last conversation, the conductor says, “But sometimes, seeing is believing. And sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”

You know, as much as some of us believe in greater things, in Someone greater, I believe there is spell of sorts we all struggle with. When we were very young, we were more immune. We believed in almost anything, accepted our limited knowledge of the world and wanted to follow those we loved and trusted.

As we grew up, we lost this “innocence,” and the spell really began to have its way with us. It casts a very subtle magic, one of reason and rationality, of materialism and logic. It tells us, over and over, if you can’t literally see something, you shouldn’t believe in it.

Something deeper inside knows better, but the spell makes so much sense. Even though we may believe in God and that He is sovereign over all things, much of the time this spell still speaks volumes to us. As a result, most of the decisions we make in our lives are based on the visible, not the invisible. We say we believe in God and want to follow Him, but this is not what we do most of the time. And so, do we believe . . . or not?

This is what The Polar Express is really about.

We can watch the movie and think, if we like, it’s just a cute and touching story about a boy who’s growing up and realizing Santa could have never been real. It should leave us wondering what the author had in mind, however, for there’s a huge implication the world would be better off if everyone believed in Santa and the North Pole. Is it because everyone might be more generous and giving, like him? During just one time of the year? Maybe. But that’s not very compelling.

At the end of the movie our young boy is back home on Christmas morning. He met Santa at the North Pole the night before and believed he was real. Right when this change occurred in his heart, for the first time he was able to hear the ringing sound of a bell from Santa’s sleigh. Santa gives him the bell as a gift, but he accidentally leaves it on his sleigh.

The gift of . . . belief. Quite a gift.

Back at home, his mother finds one more present under the tree for him, but it’s clear she does not recognize it. The boy opens it and finds his bell. He shakes it and it rings. His mother picks it up and shakes it, but hears nothing. The movie ends as the boy, now a man, says:

“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah (his younger sister) 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.”

And so, we’ve come full circle, from the very beginning of the movie when the boy lay in his bed on Christmas Eve, “listening for a sound I was afraid I’d never hear. The ringing bells of Santa’s sleigh.”

Most of the time we struggle to believe because we’re so stubborn, so full of ourselves. We don’t want to be infringed upon. But there is another side. Think of this young boy’s words again.

How horrible would it be if we waited and waited and never heard . . . the sound of God? How horrible would it truly be if we were all alone in this huge universe without His sovereignty and goodness.

And so, on Christmas morning, just how grateful and amazed should we be, and how loved should we feel, that the Creator of the universe has always been, is presently at this very moment, and will always be — there for us, no matter what? Thank God.

Next time,


Welcome, I'm Sam!

A fellow traveler on this journey we call life and this path we call the Christian faith, wanting to speak to anyone who will listen about the incredible things that God (only because of His incredible grace) chose to reveal to me. Stories have always been a mirror in which we can see ourselves, if we only look more closely. We are all like the children of Israel in the wilderness, wanting and needing to establish ourselves in the promised land. Stories can help us to get there, and to flourish there.

I can't wait to get to know you!


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