In what has become a Christmas tradition in my home, I enjoyed watching ELF with a few close friends this past Wednesday morning. Though I’m typically the guy that prefers films not to be quoted while watching, when watching ELF, I become that annoying guy. How can you not join in the declaration, “Congratulations! You did it! ‘World’s best cup of coffee!’ Great job, everybody.” Or perhaps, “Smiling’s my favorite!” More than just that, it makes it into our everyday lives. Maybe you’ve answered the phone, “Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?” or told a friend, “You sit on a throne of lies.”
But this year, though these scenes had jumped out before, I decided to take a few minutes to draw out an illustration from ELF that point us towards eternity. (Maybe someday I’ll add to the series…always looking at life through the lens of a future sermon illustration.)
As the film nears its end, Santa Claus is on his Christmas Eve mission when his turbine engine falls off leaving him stranded in Central Park, NYC. Buddy, Walter, and his son Michael find Santa in a time crunch to get back in the air before the Central Park Rangers find him.
Despite the presence of a reindeer, Santa, gifts and a sleigh, Walter and Michael doubt Santa’s authenticity. To that, Santa fully reveals Michael’s Christmas wishes. At the realization of who this man in red and white really was, Michael’s “Christmas spirit” made the sleigh slightly rise.
This is where we pick up the scene.
Michael: What happened?
Santa: You made my sleigh fly.
Michael: What do you mean?
Santa: Well, before the turbine days, This baby used to run solely on Christmas spirit. You believed in me. You made my sleigh fly.
Michael: Hold it… if you’re really Santa Claus, then we can just get some news cameras in here, and everyone will believe in you. Then your sleigh will fly, right?
Santa: Christmas spirit is about believing, not seeing. If the whole world saw me, all would be lost. The paparazzi have been trying to nail me for years.
Though the picture may already be clear in your mind, let’s unpack it for a moment.
This scene from Elf mirrors what religious leaders in Christ’s day AND our modern thought says to and about Jesus. The Devil told Jesus to prove Himself by making stones become bread (Matthew 4:1-11). The Pharisees wanted Christ to work signs to prove His identity (Mark 8:11-13…among many other passages). The hecklers at the cross, the soldiers who crucified Him, and even a criminal being crucified with Christ asked Jesus to come down from the cross to prove His Deity (Matthew 27:39-40; Luke 23:36-39).
This is the way of the world.
Notice, even after Michael SAW Santa, he still said, “If you’re Santa, then...” How many of us have seen the power of God in our lives, yet still pray, “If you’re God, then…“ Do we require God to act a certain way in order to prove He is real to the world? To us? If He doesn’t act as we wish, does that make Him less real?
Did you notice Michael’s method? To bring cameras in so everyone can see and then believe. In working with youth, I often hear them say, “I’d believe if God would…[fill in the blank].” Even those who claim to believe make statements like, “If only we can get this certain athlete to publicly declare Jesus Christ, then there would be a mass turning to Christ! If only a certain politician would turn from his sin and be dramatically converted, then many would believe.”
God has chosen personal faith in WHO He is and what He has done for us. Not public fandom for WHAT He can do as the route to a relationship with Himself. The Word of God defines faith as, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Later on, in that same chapter, the Word tells us in verse 6, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
God has packaged His power in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16). In reaching the world, we can possess many methods, pray for marvelous miracles, and preach masterful messages, but what changes a life is not our performing of something, but rather, our preaching of SOMEONE.
What is this faith He wants? This is the story of Christmas. God has not only written His love across creation, but He ultimately demonstrated His love in becoming one of us in the form of a baby in Bethlehem, taking on Himself the sin of the world at Calvary, and dying in our place, and finally conquering the grave leaving us the offer of an eternal relationship and home with Him (John 14:1-3).
God could have just put on a show, but He chose to send a Savior. He wasn’t looking for servants, but sons. Can you say with Peter the apostle, “Whom having not seen, you love” (I Peter 1:8)?