Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

     Would you believe that until recently, I never saw the original “Miracle on 34th Street”? Seriously. I remember seeing parts of the Mara Wilson remake (but I’m glad I never sat through the whole thing), and I also found some knock-off remake from the 1950’s, but never the original. If you can watch any version of the film, watch the one from 1947: it has an earnest message, some great acting, and a pretty awesome Santa Claus. Or is he?

     Many of the characters in the film are wondering just that. At the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade one year, a man that could be a spot-on look-alike of Santa himself is quickly brought in to fill the position of the Santa in the parade. But as his boss, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), discovers, he could very well be Santa himself. The man’s real name is Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), whose original residence is the North Pole, and Doris is obviously very puzzled by all this. She is the kind of mother who long ago dismissed the idea of Santa Claus from the mind of her young daughter Susan (Natalie Wood), even though other adults like lawyer neighbor Fred Gailey (John Payne) try to get her to “play along”. But when Doris, Fred, and other Macy’s workers are confronted with the notion that their Santa Claus may be the real thing, and claims to be the real thing, who knows what could happen?

     Who knows, indeed. Kringle acts as the Macy’s Santa assuring children that they will get whatever they wish for Christmas and then directing parents to where to purchase those gifts—even if those gifts are at another store! It’s confusing at first, but Macy’s soon embraces the idea of putting the spirit of Christmas before competition, which boosts sales. Things seem to be going well for the new Macy’s until Kringle gets in a little trouble, when he confronts the company psychiatrist about maltreatment of some other employees. The psychiatrist takes Kringle to court, but Fred decides to defend Kringle and the fact that he may be—no, is the real Santa Claus.

     Meanwhile, Susan is having her own Santa crisis. One night she talks to Kringle and tells him the one thing she wants for Christmas: a new house for her and her mother, instead of the apartment they’re living in right now.

SUSAN: If you're really Santa Claus, you can get it for me. And if you can't, you're only a nice man with a white beard like Mother says.

KRINGLE: Now wait a minute, Susie. Just because every child can't get his wish, doesn't mean there isn't a Santa Claus.

     Yeah, Susan, read Luke 4:12 and Deuteronomy 6:16. Anyway, Susan starts to believe gradually that Kringle maybe is the real Santa Claus after all, because of not only his looks but also his attitude and his heart. And after Fred defends Kringle in court and wins the case, Susan believes there may be hope after all.

     However, Christmas morning comes, and there is no sign of a new house. Susan is heartbroken. But Doris, who has found her faith in Christmas renewed after meeting Kris Kringle, tells her something Fred told her earlier: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.” And reluctantly, Susan starts repeating to herself: “I believe. I believe.” Not unlike the “hero boy” from “The Polar Express” last week.

     And wouldn’t you know it, Christmas Day they drive around a neighborhood and come across a house: the same kind of house Susan described to Kringle. The house is empty and for sale, and the only sign of someone being there is a cane propped up against the hearth… a cane similar to the one Kringle had.

     “Miracle on 34th Street” is another Christmas story about faith to believe in things that don’t seem like they could be real. Doris Walker certainly had to find that, looking through the consumerism of Christmas to see the heart that Kris Kringle had to show. And Susan had to, in a sense, find her childhood again, and the faith to maybe even believe in Santa Claus.

     Hebrews 11:1 could be a theme verse for these past couple weeks: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” I guess Christmastime may be a season of faith for a lot of people who think: How can we celebrate a time of giving and a time of thanks (heck, maybe they think that at Thanksgiving, too…) when there’s so much pain and hardship in the world? And how in the world can anyone believe in something as ridiculous as Santa Claus—or better still, Jesus Christ?

     Well, again, the biggest way I can testify to the healing power of Jesus is by telling my testimony—He did a work in my life, and I believe He can reveal Himself to you if you let Him in. That continues to be my prayer for you.

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