“I’m not just a whimsical figure who wears a charming suit and affects a jolly demeanor, you know. I’m a symbol. I’m a symbol the human ability to be able to suppress the selfish and hateful tendencies that rule the major part of our lives.”
– Kris Kringle, Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
These words are said by Kris as he’s speaking to the female lead of the movie, Mrs. Walker. They’re talking about the worth of believing or not believing in him, in Santa, in a figure which many believe to be a fiction. Mrs. Walker sees no harm in not believing, but Kris explains that it’s not simply him, the person, which one believes in. He, like most such figures, is a symbol for something more. In his case, he’s a symbol of charity, mercy, and giving, which naturally runs counter to the basic impulses of selfishness, greed, anger, and hatred.
To believe in him – not his existence, but him – is to believe in what he represents, and what he represents is vital to humanity. To not believe is to lose something so precious and good that it can hardly be captured by words.
I could hardly ask for anything better to share at Christmastime, a time which is dedicated to people’s celebration of everything that is good, as authored by a figure which many do not believe in. Now, I’m not going to try and convert anyone, and I hope I never come across as preaching, that is not my intention. However, the figure of Christ, whom I worship, and all of his teachings, which, flawed though I am, I strive to follow, have left an indelible imprint upon humanity, and for the better. Even critics of faith and religion and especially Christianity must admit that it has been in accordance with His teachings that things have improved.
Christians have terrible things? Yes, they have. And many Christians have given their lives to correct that. People whose efforts slowly wrested power and control from a select few and gave it to the people became martyrs for their efforts, such was their discipleship to Him above all else. Kindness becomes more common, tolerance spreads, and forgiveness flows in the light of His words. Can anyone doubt that these are good things for all of us?
And looking beyond figures which may be fake, and figures which many give their lives to follow, there are absolutely real figures who have chosen to be symbols, by their example. They’re everywhere, from the pages of history with George Washington, to the pages of the news with our leaders and celebrities, to the pages of rosters in public services as officers, firemen, and paramedics, to the halls of our own homes, in the form of our friends and family members. And as flawed as they are, they inspire us to strive to become better than we have been. Each one of them is a symbol for something more.
But here’s the thing that we often struggle with: we forget that truly believing in them is, or should be, what inspires us to believe in ourselves.
With the exception of God, I can think of no one who is more important for us to believe in, and yet we fail to believe as we need to, far too often, I believe.
And that is why it is so important to believe. Because if we don’t, if we can’t, then we often can’t believe in ourselves either. But if we do… if we can just believe in these fantastic people… well, then we can dare to imagine ourselves as something like them, can’t we?