God is always interacting with us. God is always trying to open our eyes and our hearts to a divine revelation. And sometimes, if we are willing to listen, we will find God in unexpected places. A couple of weeks ago I went to see The Rise of the Guardians and all I expected was a light, fun, Christmas-themed movie suitable for young audiences. What I got was an unexpected, but pleasant, encounter with God.
No, Rise of the Guardians is not a Christian movie. Despite the fact that Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny play leading roles in the film, there is never a single explicit reference to Christ or to any religion or faith. The closest thing I saw, at all, was a banner in the background proclaiming an Easter Egg hung, on which the “t” was shaped like a cross. But that could have been my imagination, too. Yet, scene after scene, I was scribbling a note in my journal with the thought, “This would make a great talking point with kids…”
Without any more delay, here are my thoughts on ten possible talking points about faith.
(((SPOILER ALERT: MOVIE DETAILS FOLLOW)))
The movie opens with Jack Frost telling us about what he remembers of life and concludes it with, “the man in the moon told me.” The Man in the Moon would go on to be an important point of reference throughout the movies. It is always there, but silent. Yet, the moon is obviously active in the world, too. If a person is willing, she can listen to the moon’s message. At some point, Jack had heard the moon’s voice. Later, the Guardians would hold what appears to be a one-sided conversation with the moon, and yet, the moon clearly makes its will known to the Guardians. And, when everything seems to be at its worst and all the children in the world have stopped believing in the Guardians (Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy, and eventually Jack Frost), one little boy named Jamie clings to his faith, refusing to give up. But in a moment of desperation he picks up his stuffed bunny rabbit and begins to pour his heart out, hoping the Easter Bunny will hear and answer.
Realistically, speaking to the moon or a stuffed toy will do us no good. And sadly, sometimes, we feel just as helpless when we pour our heart to God. We feel like Jamie, who drops his little stuffed bunny to the floor, or Jack Frost who pleads, “Why won’t you answer me” before walking away. But God does hear. Just as Jack and Jamie received their answers in unexpected ways, if we are willing to leave our mind and hearts open to the possibility that God is speaking, we will receive our answers, too.
Belief is a powerful thing. Jack Frost wanders around the world, unseen and unable to be loved because no one believes in him. Pitch Black (a.k.a. The Boogeyman, the nemesis), was once believed in but now is forgotten. He is unable to be seen or heard as well. Both Jack and Pitch Black are driven by this desire to be seen and felt in the world. But while Jack’s intentions are good and pure, Pitch Black’s are malicious and evil. In the end, it all comes down to Jamie… one very little boy who must decide if he will allow his belief in the fear Pitch Black dumps on the world to destroy his hope, or if he will allow his belief in the Guardians and their sense of joy, wonder, dreams, and hope to prevail. Everything hinges on a little boy’s faith. The world depends on a child’s belief in what is good over what is evil.
Simply believing is a powerful tool in our belts. When Jamie and his friends find themselves surrounded by all the fears and nightmares of the world, they are able to find the courage to stand up to the creator of all that evil, even though it might clearly mean they lose their lives. They wanted to believe in what was good. They chose to believe in good. And because of that, the world was saved. How often do we see that theme running through the gospel? The faith of a prostitute named Rahab saved the spies who had crossed into the promised land. The faith of Moses lead the people of Israel on an unlikely trek across the parted Red Sea. The faith of Mary loved and nurtured and cared for our very Savior. They believed that God would not leave them stranded in their moment of need… and if we believe, we will find the courage to face impossible odds.
3. Lack of belief
Jamie’s belief in Jack Frost enabled the boy to see what had been unseen just a moment before. So… does not believing make it all go away? Not at all. Jack was lonely and lost, but he was still very much real for four hundred years as he wandered the earth, trying to get noticed. When the children stopped believing is Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, they didn’t go away. The children were simply unable to see them any longer. And in not seeing them, they were not able to see the wonder and joy that they had brought into the world. When the children stopped believing, their lives became unhappy. But the Guardians were still there. Likewise, when the children ceased to be afraid of Pitch Black, he remained in the world, but the children didn’t seem to notice him or fall prey to his fear any longer. Happiness returned as they learned to believe in the good and to put fear behind them.
Likewise, we can declare that there is no God, but it doesn’t make God any less real. It only blinds us to God’s goodness in the world. Chances are our lives will lose the luster they once held and we might find ourselves wandering the world lost and without a sense of purpose.
Another thing to consider is the fact that when Jamie had no clue who Jack Frost was, he couldn’t see the playful trickster. But when he learned to believe, Jack became visible. But then, all of a sudden, Jack prepares to leave. After a tumultuous, life-changing night, Jamie is worried that if Jack leaves he’ll lose faith again. So Jack poses the question, “Do you stop believing in the moon when the sun comes up?” That is a very good question because we can’t always see God with our eyes. But just because we can’t see God, do we have to stop believing? Of course not! Our encounter with God will change our lives and we’ll always carry that with us. Jamie was going to remember Jack Frost forever… and we will remember Jesus forever once we’ve met him.
The Guardians are weak and their powers are quickly disappearing and one lone boy remains to keep their memory alive. One lone boy. How would they ever conquer the army of darkness that had just surrounded them? That’s when Jack Frost has a brilliant idea: “Let’s get your friends!” But the problem is, Jamie’s friends have never believed in Jack Frost and they have lost their faith in Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy… and the Sandman appears to be dead, having been consumed by darkness. So it all falls on Jamie’s shoulders. If the world is to have a chance, he must find a way to share what he has seen with others. And Jamie doesn’t hold back. His belief and excited testimony opens the eyes of his friends. They return to their faith and rush into the street to confront all the evil of the world. A small band of children against an army of darkness and evil.
Our witness to others allows us to open eyes that have been blinded to the good things of this world. When we live in such a way that our faith is out there for all to see, it can’t be ignored. Jamie never lost his sense of joy and hope and that’s what kept his light shining in the world. And that light had the power to re-ignite others. Imagine what we can do if we live in such a way that the Light of Christ is always shining in us!
5. A Remnant
This ties in with the idea of witnessing and belief. Jamie and his friends are all alone in the world when they rush out into the street. It is the middle of the night. The adults, the protectors, are all asleep. Most of the other children of the world are still being plagued by nightmares and lack of faith. Only a tiny remnant of unlikely heroes remain. But when they meet Pitch Black and his army of nightmares, they don’t back down. Their faith gives them the courage to stand up and be counted among the faithful and because they are the remnant, hope is not lost.
God always leaves a remnant. Read any story in the Bible (Old Testament of New) and you will see that there is always a few faithful left to pick up the pieces and fight the good fight. Noah and his family were left to restore human life to the earth after the flood. Israel always had a few faithful who restored righteousness. Lot and his family were spared from Sodom and Gomorrah. There are the faithful left standing in Revelation to preach the gospel. As long as there are those with faith, humanity has hope because God will not abandon us anymore than the Guardians were willing to abandon Jamie and his friends in the terrifying showdown in the middle of the night. We are not alone when we have our faith in God.
6. Heart of a believer
Jack’s farewell address to Jamie included the line, “We’re still right here (Jack taps Jamie’s chest) and that sort of makes you a Guardian, too. When we accept Jesus Christ we are changed at the very core of who we are. Our hearts are changed… they are changed to reflect the heart of Christ himself. That is why the body of believers call themselves “the Body of Christ”. We become a part of Christ when Christ fills our hearts.
When Pitch Black appears to have gotten the upper hand, he tosses poor Jack into a pit that he can’t seem to escape. It seems he is doomed to spend eternity there in total misery. We can compare that to Jesus’ time in the tomb. We can compare it to Jonah in the belly of a whale. We can compare it to the days that Paul spent in blindness after his Damascus Road experience. We can compare it to many things. But mostly, we can compare it to the loneliness we sometimes feel in our own life. It is always a terrible feeling to be left all alone int he world and to feel we can’t even rely on those whom we used to believe in. But in Jack’s despair he was given an unexpected message from the moon when he finally reclaims his lost childhood memories. In that moment of revelation he is reminded why he was chosen by the moon in the first place: Jack gave his own life to save another. He wasn’t chosen to become a guardian when Pitch Black hatched his plan… he had been chosen from the moment he made his sacrifice. He was already a Guardian. When we are in our icy pit, we don’t know which way to turn for help. Sometimes, all we can do is to fall to our knees and let God reveal our purpose to us. And if we are willing to listen, God will reveal our purpose.
8. Even Pitch Black Believes
But believing isn’t the end of our responsibility. Even Pitch Black believes in the Man in the Moon. Even Pitch Black speaks to the moon… But the moon’s intentions and plans for the world beneath him has always been good. The moon wants the world to be filled with joy and hope. Pitch Black is only concerned with his own power and greatness and doesn’t care about anyone else, His plans use all of humanity as pawns in order to achieve his own goals. The difference between Pitch Black and the Guardians is not belief alone. It is the willingness to submit to the will of the moon, whose very nature is good. They seek to do good and to protect hope at all costs. That is the difference we must be willing to make in our lives, too. Jesus said that even the demons believe… and they do. But the demons don’t care about God’s will… we must care about it. And we must be willing to submit to it.
9. What is your center?
When Jack is brought the North Pole, Santa Clause pulls him aside and demands to know what his “center” is. For Santa, it is eyes filled with wonder and awe. Eyes that can see all the wonder in the world. It would take Jack a while to figure out that his center was joy, but when he finally figured it out, he had the key to change the tide of events and to stop Pitch Black in his tracks. Scripture refers to the “gifts of the Spirit”… Everyone has a gift. Everyone has something special about them that enables God to use them in powerful and profound ways. Jack’s trickster personality turned out to be fueled by his joy of life and that was what he put back into the world. What is the gift that we have to put back in the world? How can we put joy and hope and wonder in life?
10. Sandman Returns!
And of course, there is the unlikely return of Sandman. It had seemed that Pitch Black had defeated him. He appeared to be dead. His fellow Guardians even mourned him. But as the battle between good and evil raged in the suburban streets in front of Jamie’s home, the young boy suddenly realizes what he has to do to defeat the boogeyman. Jamie and his friends rush around, touching the nightmares and turning them into dreams of hope and wonder. And suddenly the darkness couldn’t hold the Sandman back any longer. The Sandman never looked like anything that could defeat pure evil, but he had already shown himself to be capable of incredible courage. The short, pudgy, mute little man made of glittery sand could use the force of all the good dreams he put into the world to fight the force of all the nightmares.
Of course, as Christians, we know of someone who once seemed an unlikely Savior. He had been born in a barn. He didn’t carry a sword, even in a time of rebellion. He turned the other cheek when attacked. And he was nailed to a cross and eventually laid in a tomb. His closest friends mourned his death… but the darkness of death and the cold of the tomb could not hold him. God is Good, and everything that is Good comes from God. So, all the power of good overcame all the power of darkness and evil and through the stone away and burst back into our world and set us all free from the shackles of sin and death. The power of Good is unstoppable!