Out of the mouth of babes
Our two little granddaughters spent the night with us a few days ago. It was the first time we’d had them both at once.
Although we were a bit concerned that the movie picked out for the evening, The Polar Express, might go over the two year old’s head, she was entranced. Her four year old sister, of course, was all in right from the beginning. In part, no doubt, because my wife practices what Toy Story preaches: No Toy Gets Left Behind. At least when it comes to the grandkids. There was the conductor’s cap. And the silver bell. Not to mention the bottomless bowl of buttered popcorn.
And, because nothing succeeds like excess, a live, repeat performance of the story a few nights later at the Colorado Railroad Museum. But this time, the grandkids dragged along their parents. It was a fine evening, too. Especially chugging around a loop about 10 times, sitting in a beautiful old narrow gauge passenger car, while the coal fired steam engine blew it’s whistle every time we crossed a road somewhere out near Golden. (Warning! Don’t even attempt to find the museum without tuning up your GPS.) The conductor and the white jacketed chefs, replete with toques, served hot chocolate and cookies.
When the silver bell falls silent
The story’s about a kid who’s an agnostic when it comes to Santa Clause. But as he’s dozing off one Christmas eve, a big coal fired locomotive and passenger train mysteriously whistles to a stop in front of his house as snow drifts down through clouds of smoke and steam. Despite his skepticism, the boy climbs aboard and off the train goes on a wild, gorgeously animated ride to the North Pole where Santa and hordes of elves await.
As the film winds down, Santa is preparing to take off in a sled dwarfed by a bag of toys. But before the sled leaps into the air, he turns to our young, but now converted unbeliever and announces, “You get the first gift of Christmas. What would you like?” In response, the boy points at one of the silver bells hanging from the harness of Santa’s eagerly plunging reindeer and says, “One of those, please.” With that, it’s in the boy’s hand and from there into the pocket of his night robe.
Unfortunately, there’s a hole in the pocket and the silver bell goes missing. But, next morning, hidden away in a little box under the tree, the silver bell reappears. But when the boy eagerly rings the bell, only he and his sister can hear it; their parent’s are deaf to its beautiful tones. And, with each passing Christmas, fewer and fewer of the children’s friends can hear it either.
Until, at last, even the boy’s sister goes deaf.
Meanwhile, back on the train. And away in a manger . .
After the cookies had been eaten, the cocoa drunk, and a few spills cleaned up, the conductor and chefs serenaded us. They had great voices, no doubt. They’re professional actors who have to knit together Lord knows how many acting and other gigs to keep body and soul together in a town like Denver.
And the songs’ sentiments were nice enough. Santa and his elves. Warm and fuzzy holiday feelings. Songs that would have felt perfectly at home on Broadway.
But any mention of what Christmas is actually about? The birth of the Savior? Or any of the wealth of traditional carols that so joyfully and beautifully express the real significance of the season?
Not on your life.
Until, that is, I heard a small voice, down and to my left, coming from the mouth of our four year old granddaughter who was butchering the lyrics to one of those wonderful old carols:
Away in a manger, no hay for his crib,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on his head . . .”
When life is stranger than fiction.
So, when is it going to dawn on us that things like The Polar Express is a near perfect illustration of the ludicrous contortions we’ll put ourselves through to avoid mentioning what Christmas is really about? How we’ve grown tone deaf to the One who started it all so long ago in that manger in Bethlehem? How so much of the real significance of the season has been driven into hiding by relentless commercialization? By the cowering fear of giving offense by even uttering the word “Christmas”?
And, above all, of mentioning the Name of He who must not be named: Jesus.