I sat in my car waiting for my girls to finish their Faith Formation classes. In the parking lot the Knights of Columbus were selling Christmas trees.
A man and his three kids drove up to pick up their trees. Two for them. One for Grandma. The daughter was the oldest at about 12, the younger boys, perhaps 10 and 8. And as I watched them flit from tree to tree, like hummingbirds, it struck me what joy children bring into our world. And I wondered if, without them, how long we would exchange gifts or put up trees or tell stories. (All of which certainly deserves qualification, but for now, I'm leaving it there.) The children were wide-eyed and their chatter was constant. "Daddy! Daddy!" they cried. "Look at this tree! Wouldn't this one be perfect downstairs!"
Not long afterward, we lit our Advent wreath - the first in our home. We turned off all the lights and ate by the flame of a single candle intent on imparting hope to us. The children, mine this time, were wide-eyed and their chatter was constant. They asked questions (Having just seen Fiddler on the Roof for the first time, one of them asked, "Are we Jewish, now?") and told stories. "Daddy! Daddy!" - they clamored for my ear.
And, as I treasured the experience in my heart, I realized that this night, though perhaps not specifically December 2, 2007, this night would be remembered. Advent would be part of who they are, who they become. Just as I, even as a confirmed Protestant, would always find Midnight Mass and Christmas inseparable events. Just as this ring on my finger bears witness to memory, to union, to life.
Our personhood is birthed in memory. We give our children memories, cherished traditions, so that their faith is rooted not in the ephemerality of Idea, but in the permanence, the concreteness, of water and flame, of fir and crèche, of ashes and fish. So that when the tempter comes to them, they can go to the Jordan and see the rocks in its midst. So they can arise and journey to Bethel and know that there is a ladder there. So that a candle will give hope, and a cross, peace.