This morning I want to talk a little about Advent Schizophrenia, Little things and Charlie Bucket. I want to begin with schizophrenia because for me that’s what we become in Advent. For on the one hand we’re surrounded by Christmas, indeed we had a jolly Christmas Bazaar yesterday. In contrast to that the church, in words, music and our building is saying hang on a minute, we’re not there yet.
It’s tricky living in these two worlds. Part of me feels a bit miserable if I get all humbug to the Christmas Cheer. Yet another part of me says I need Advent. I need that sense of hopeful waiting. I need some space to think about things framed by the perspective that this blessed season brings. Advent is good for me.
So perhaps what I need to do is simply accept that we’re a bit schizophrenic over the next few weeks, not being too grumpy “harrumph its not Christmas yet” nor wholly giving oneself to the party spirit as if there’s nothing to be said for waiting. But how?
The other day I noticed how Axa Car Insurance (and no I’m not on commission) have as one of their tag lines “Little things mean a lot.” Somehow that seemed to speak to me of Advent and of the little things we do that mean a lot that we mustn’t let go of.
For example, we light the candles on the Advent Wreath, we open our Advent Calendars, even if they are nowadays just an excuse for a chocolate, we light our Advent Candles at home and watch as they slowly burn their way to 24.
These little things, mean a lot for they remind us that waiting with expectation and hope is at the heart of these weeks. So perhaps amidst the big things, the parties, presents and Christmas trees the little things we do can help keep this season of Advent alive. One of them might also be to pick up a good book and that’s where Charlie Bucket comes in.
Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, however unlikely it might seem, is quite a good read for Advent. Charlie, the central character, is used to waiting and hoping (very Advent words) as he dreams of a different life for his family. His imagination is captivated by the Wonka Factory, a place of mystery surrounded by high walls and iron gates.
The story is of Wonka opening the gates to his world to the winners of the golden tickets, hidden in his chocolate bars. Charlie clings to the hope of finding one. In the story we sense his excitement when he opens his birthday present of a Wonka Bar and hopes he may have won.
Alas he doesn’t, at least then, but he keeps the hope alive and a stroke of good fortune means another bar and another chance. You know the rest of the story and it’s really not a bad one for Advent for alongside the central themes of hope and wonder, Dahl also captures the best and worst of humanity in his characters.
The best we see in Charlie, the worst in the others, from Augustus Gloop forever eating to Verucca Salt who wants everything now. And though we may think them caricatures, I guess we can all see something of ourselves in both Charlie and the others.
As a season Advent invites us to both rekindle that sense of hope and wonder which Charlie Bucket knew and also let go of those desires and wants that diminish us, so that that the infant king might as one famous carol puts it be ‘be born in us’ again.
I’ve often pondered those words for there’s a bit of me that wants to ask how can Christ be born in us again… and again? And yet if we think about our lives and the journey of the last year we’ve likely experienced much and changed in all sorts of ways, not always for the better.
Consequently no matter how many times we’ve been here before there is a bit of us that always needs to be reborn and made new. Indeed that’s part of why I need Advent, it’s a time to get ready and by doing the little things I might just be ready for the big thing that comes in a very small bundle.
Now I know it’s not easy, we’ve a hundred other things to do. That’s why the little things matter as well of course of coming here to St. Mary’s to step out of perpetual Christmas into Advent, become a bit schizophrenic so that we might have the chance to think differently and wait.
Many of you know what it is to wait, for that call, for the bus, for the appointment. The waiting of which Advent invites us is different and goes that bit deeper, so that we might as our collect put it ‘cast away the works of darkness’ and as we heard in our Gospel ‘stand up and raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near.’
That redemption we see at seasons end in a baby, but we’re not there yet.
May God bless each one of us amidst these schizophrenic few weeks on our journey to the crib.