I wonder if you can identify with Moana singing “How Far I’ll Go” in the lavish new Disney film?
“Every turn I take
Every trail I track
Is a choice I make
Now I can’t turn back
From the great unknown
Where I go alone
Where I long to be”
When you look at the beauty of the world around you, does it fill you with a sense of wonder? Does its abundance inspire you to praise God? Are you thankful just to be alive? Are you frustrated with the world the way it is? Does the presence of evil and suffering impel you to want to help those in need? Are you restless? Are you longing to fulfil your destiny? I encourage you to see the film Moana.
But isn’t there a danger in encouraging children to read or watch films that portray a Polynesian creation myths or promote fantasy? C.S. Lewis, who wrote the Narnia stories, had this advice.
“It would be far truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted… Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker… I think it is possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors [your child feels], and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable.”
In previous Carol Services, our understanding of the Christmas message has surely been enriched by taking C.S. Lewis’ advice.
Jesus and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
The Gospel According to Paddington Bear (2014)
Frozen: A Story to Melt Your Heart (2013)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Arthur Christmas Meets Jesus (2011)
A Lion in the Manger (2010)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
His Dark Materials (2007)
Always Winter Never Christmas (2005)
The Incredibles (2004)
The Return of the King (2003)
So this Christmas, what does Moana have to say that sheds light on the Christmas message? Clearly no children’s fantasy, least of all a Disney animation, can come close to the original, historical, factual eye-witness accounts we have read from the Bible this evening. Although set within Polynesian culture, with catchy tunes and stunning animations, Moana nevertheless has much to teach about self-discovery, trust, courage, perseverance, responsibility and sacrifice. It also has something to say about team work, harmony, confronting evil and creation care.
I’d like to draw out four brief observations:
- God loves you and created you to know him
[Moana] “is certainly one of the most visually stunning and atmospheric animated movies ever made… “Moana” …will knock you out of your theatre seat with its dazzling water animation and its tropical textures. It feels as if you’ve returned from a vacation to Tahiti by the time the credits roll.”
This world is bursting with life, abundant, bountiful.
Yet we know we live in a moral as well as a material world. And in Moana, just as in the real world, good and evil both exist. The supernatural is never far from the surface of the water. Without giving the plot away, I think it is safe to say that like every other Disney film, good triumphs over evil. Life on the island is safe and idyllic and reminded me of the Garden of Eden. All Moana’s physical and emotional needs were met on the island. There is harmony with nature and peace within the tribal community and yet, and yet, Moana is restless. There is more to life. There is something supernatural drawing Moana even as a small child beyond her comfort zone. One of the most powerful moments in the film is when Moana is called or chosen. She sings,
“There’s a line where the sky meets the sea
And it calls me
But no one knows how far it goes
All the time wondering where I need to be
Is behind me
I’m on my own
To worlds unknown”
That deep longing, can indeed begin in childhood. God created you to know and love him. Have you heard that call? Have you responded? In the Christmas story, we read of the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary,
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God… “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:35-38)
Both Joseph and Mary, her cousin Elizabeth and Zechariah, the Shepherds and the Magi were all prompted by the Holy Spirit, by dreams or by angels, to respond to God’s calling. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will guides us too, to fulfil our destiny. What better time to listen for God’s whisper in our soul, than when we remember how God spoke to Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi calling them to fulfil their part in his great redemptive plan for the world. God loves you and created you to know and serve him.
- We are separated from God because of our sin
In Moana we encounter Polynesian culture and religion. We are told for example “in the beginning, there was only ocean” and that a goddess created all life. The male hero, Maui, is a demigod – a cross between a person and a god. There are mild references to polytheism (the belief in many gods) and animism (the belief that objects and animals can have spirit qualities).
Moana’s grandmother is reincarnated and tells her “the ocean chose you”. The ocean is portrayed as alive and personified. Moana has more fun with the ocean but I’ll leave you to discover what. But don’t be put off not least by the scariest character in the movie, the Demon of Earth and Fire. The Bible insists evil is real –personified in Satan and no one is immune from his influence. Because people are separated from God, they are like orphans, living in darkness, they are confused in their thinking and have lost a sense of who they are. It should therefore not be surprising that worship of man-made gods is universal.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1:21-23)
Moana also reminds us that the Fall has impacted not just human relationships but the whole of creation as well. The trigger moment for Moana’s story is when the fishermen return with empty nets, and the coconut harvest fails. God loves you and created you to know and serve him. But we are separated from God because of sin. This has tainted all human relationships, impacted creation and led to many false religions. That is why we need a Saviour.
- God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to save us
“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:11-14)
We need a Saviour, not a warrior, least of all in the form of a demi-god, like Maui, half human, half divine, half good and half bad, half wise and half foolish. God sent his very own Son, born fully man and fully God. As the Prophet Isaiah predicted 700 years before:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
When Mary and Joseph took their baby to the Temple to give thanks, Simeon testified,
“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32)
Jesus came to bring light where there is darkness, Forgiveness where there is guilt, glory where there was shame, peace where there is conflict, joy where there is sadness, freedom where there is slavery and eternal life where there is death. And that light, that forgiveness, that peace, that joy, that freedom and that life is for everyone on earth.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
God loves you and created you to know and serve him.But we are separated from God because of sin. That is why God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to save us. And like little children,
- We must follow Jesus to fulfil our destiny
The child in me identifies with Moana as she follows her heart. And the Christian in me identifies with Moana too as she leaves the comfort and safety of her island, to obey a higher call to save her people. A strong role model, Moana demonstrates courage and selflessness. Not only that, she inspires her fellow islanders to rediscover their destiny too, to be voyagers and search for new islands to inhabit.
I see parallels with the church today. Too often we equate the Christian faith with a set of beliefs rather than with a person, the Lord Jesus. In all his glory and majesty, Jesus calls us to a journey, wonder of wonders, to know Him and make Him known. But like many of Moana’s people, instead, we burn our boats and preoccupy ourselves with making our churches like little islands, as safe and comfortable as possible. And we turn our backs on a world in darkness and peril outside. What a contrast with our Saviour,
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:13-14)
If we have truly seen his glory, like the angels, like the shepherds and the Magi, how can we not long to share him, long for others to see his glory too? The call of God has always been to leave our island to reach the nations.
In the New Year on Sunday mornings from January to Easter we will be rediscovering what it means to be on a pilgrimage with Jesus. But for tonight, we are reminded that the Christmas message is this: God loves you and created you to know him.
But we are separated from God because of sin and death. That is why God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to save us. But we must receive him, obey him and follow Him if we are to fulfil our destiny. The beauty, wonder and the glory of Christmas is this, “Our God came in human flesh… His Spirit calls us into the ocean of abandonment for the sake of the gospel. So let’s step out in faith” this Christmas.