To this day I can still picture myself climbing the stairs of Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall toward the balcony. It was in the highest heights of that concert hall that I encountered The Messiah for the first time. By the time I was seven or eight years old, it had become family tradition to yearly immerse ourselves in George Frideric Handel’s masterpiece.
I haven’t been to Roy Thomson Hall in years, yet still can find myself lost in the sights and sounds and emotions of those December nights. I can still sense the jarring gap between the well-heated concert hall and the biting wind of frozen city streets. Perhaps because of this, when I open my ears to The Messiah each and every Advent, my being returns to a thousand memories from the advent of my youth.
I’m grateful for these memories, for all that they contain and for all that they’ve come to mean in my own journey of discipleship. I’m incredibly grateful that my parents saw fit to bring me back, year after year. I’m grateful not only for the muscle memory these experiences formed but also for my parents’ dedication to bringing me, knowing that I would fall asleep each and every time.
While this is just one snippet of my childhood, it speaks to the ways in which my family constantly and continually invited me into this Christian story that has now become my own.
Without my family and their multiple, gentle but intentional invitations into this story, I don’t know that I would still be a Christ-follower. A family’s posture toward faith and faith formation is central to the faith lives of the next generation.
My work with and amongst young people over the last decade has demonstrated to me how important an authentic, lived and reflective family faith is to developing faith-filled young people. Intellectually, I’ve known this for years. And yet, as a new parent, I feel this challenge in my bones. My wife and I find it both thrilling and frightening to have the primary responsibility to invite our young son into Christian discipleship, just as my parents did with me.
There are days I’d like to outsource the work to Sunday school teachers, clergy, and other members of my parish community. And yet, while they’re all important resources, I know that they don’t spend the bulk of each week with my son-or the rest of the parish’s children.
This Advent, as I find myself absorbed in Handel’s Messiah; as I re-enter the story of Israel’s expectation; as I resonate with Mary and Joseph’s eager anticipation, I’m also reminded of my own role in this story, and of God’s invitation to all of us, from generation to generation.