DAY 20: Belief
Scripture: Luke 1:26-56
One of my favorite Christmas movies of all time is “The Polar Express.” The animation and visuals are breathtaking, and you can’t go wrong in any movie with Tom Hanks as the narrator, but what makes it a classic for me is the storyline.
A young, skeptical boy, who doesn’t believe in Santa, is taken on an epic adventure to the North Pole with hopes of solidifying once and for all the existence of Santa. It is ultimately a story of belief or unbelief — the pursuit of an unseen reality that some claim is true and others dismiss.
This is the story for many of us when it comes to the claims of Jesus’s incarnation as well. The difference is, unlike Santa, Jesus was a real person who lived in first century Palestine, who grew up in a typical Jewish home. This truth is accepted by believer and skeptic alike. The struggle for belief in regards to Jesus has to do with the supernatural claims surrounding His life depicted in the Bible. At the top of that list is the central Christian doctrine surrounding Christmas — the incarnation.
Although it is tempting to believe that this doctrine is only difficult to believe because we are so much more intellectually advanced and sophisticated than premodern folks, this is simply not true. There was never a time in history when a virgin birth would have been accepted at face value. At no time in history would a virgin birth be easy to believe.
In our reading from Luke 1, we see a young, godly woman faced with a choice — belief or unbelief. At the initial greeting from Gabriel, Mary was freaking out just like any of us would have been. In verse 29 Luke says that “she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Today we often think that belief requires us to turn off our mind, but we see here that Mary “tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” The Greek word for “discern” means “to make an audit.” As Tim Keller says in his book Hidden Christmas, Mary is taking an “intellectual audit” of the situation and the words from Gabriel. Despite what many people try to say, belief in the incarnation is not an irrational action. As Mary reflected on it from the perspective of the Old Testament prophecies, it made sense.
The second thing we see with Mary is that her experience supported her belief. In verses 39-45, Luke records Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Through her interaction with Elizabeth, Mary’s faith was confirmed and her understanding of what God was doing made more sense. As I reflect on the life and death of Christ, and look back on my own experience as a Christian, my belief in the incarnation has only grown stronger.
The end of Polar Express illustrates this idea of belief based on understanding and experience. The boy has made it to the North Pole and one of the sleigh bells falls off the reins and rolls over to him. He shakes it, but he cannot hear anything. As he repeats “I believe” to himself over and over all of the sudden he can hear the sound of the bells! The bells were making noise the whole time but his belief allowed him to hear it. From then on, that bell became a reminder of the reality that can only be seen by faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Tom Hanks (the narrator) says at the very end of the movie “as I’ve grown old the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”
My hope for you is that the tradition of Christmas will be like that bell was for that little boy — a tangible reminder to keep believing and trusting in the Savior who came into this world as a little boy born of a virgin.
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