Sunday, January 15, 2012

Love Came Down[1]
By now, Christmas has come and gone for most of us, even though it is only the “Eighth Day of Christmas.” For most of us, this is a time not for celebrating the fulfillment of God’s promises in the birth of the Christ child, but rather a time for recovering from the Christmas frenzy. For most of us, it’s a time to return gifts that either don’t fit, or aren’t quite right, or that we simply don’t want. Then there’s the rush to take down all our decorations so that our household can “get back to normal.” For many of us, these days are the beginning the long, gray, dreary experience of January. It’s a time for riding out the winter until springtime comes around. Truth be told, we are entering what is for most of us the least favorite time of year.
Maybe that’s why we put such emphasis on “New Year’s Resolutions.” In order to take our minds off the post-Christmas “hangover,” we determine what we’re going to do differently with our lives in the New Year. Part of that is deciding what we’re going to “give up” this year. You know, those bad habits we’ve slipped back into. Those foods we’ve been eating that we know good and well we shouldn’t. But I think it’s also a time when we think about what we’re going to do differently with our lives.
I saw an amazing movie last night for my New Year’s Eve celebration—Martin Scorseses’ contemporary masterpiece, “Hugo.” It’s the story of a boy living in the Paris train station who, like everyone else around him, is looking for the purpose of his life. After his father, a watch-maker, dies in a tragic fire, all Hugo has to figure it out the purpose of his life is an “automaton” that his father found in a museum attic. It was a mechanical person—essentially a robot—that was broken and tarnished from disuse, and together they set about to repair it. But after losing his father, Hugo must carry on alone as best he can.
When Hugo’s father dies, his uncle Claude takes him to live in the train station and help him keep the clocks working. But Claude is a drunk and soon disappears, leaving Hugo to make his own way. As he continues to maintain the clocks, Hugo also searches for a way to repair the mysterious automaton. As he steals food to keep himself alive, he also steals toy parts from a shop in the station run by a bitter old man.
As it turns out, however, the toy shop keeper is none other than Georges Méliès, a famous pioneer in movie-making who created “movie magic” through a variety of innovative techniques. But the devastation of World War I left him virtually bankrupt, able to barely support himself by running the toy shop. Part of Hugo’s quest is connected to Mssr. Méliès, because he was the original maker of the automaton that Hugo is trying to repair. In the end, with the help of Méliès’ god-daughter Isabella, Hugo not only finds his own purpose, but also helps restore Mssr. Méliès to his calling as a visual “magician.”
As a person who gave up his calling for the sake of integrity, and then gave up his career for the sake of his kids, I resonate with the struggle to find meaning and purpose in life when it seems that I cannot do what I was born into this world to do—to teach the Bible to people who want to become ministers. Make no mistake—I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the two communities of faith I serve as Pastor. But I still struggle with the loss of what I thought was my life’s purpose.
But I think “Hugo” exposes the flaw in our thinking about purpose and meaning. As I did when I was younger, we tend to think that our purpose and meaning in life has to do with accomplishing something. It seems to me that the purpose of all our lives is the calling to embrace the divine compassion that is at the heart of all things and to share that compassion with those around us in any and every way we can. That’s what Hugo does by repairing the automaton and in the process restoring Georges Méliès to his vocation as a visual “magician.” The purpose and meaning of our lives is to open ourselves to the love at the heart of all things and share that love with those around us in our world that can be incredibly loveless at times.
I’m going to be giving up some things this year—at least I hope. I’m going to try to give up being short-tempered in stressful situations. I’m going to try to give up thinking about myself so much and think about others more. But one thing I will never give up is the conviction that at the heart of all things there is a divine compassion that defines and surrounds us all constantly. I actually learned this most lesson profoundly from studying Buddhism!
But it is a conviction that is central to our faith as well. Our lesson from St. Paul for today uses this language to describe it: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Gal. 4:7). The Spirit that God pours into all our hearts is a Spirit of compassion. It is a Spirit that embraces us and makes us a part of a family defined by God’s love. It is that compassion that gives us our meaning and purpose in this life. And so I’m going to resolve to try to live into what I believe is the true purpose of my life—to open myself to God’s love that constantly surrounds me and try to share it with those around me. I hope you will consider doing the same.

[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 1/1/12 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

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