The Jesse Tree and Christmas
Peeking out from behind the orange pumpkins and overflowing cornucopias, you may have already begun to spot cinnamon red candles, thick green garlands and an array of ornaments. TV commercials present snow-filled scenes, roaring fires and busy elves making toys in Santa’s workshop. The sights and sounds of the season are upon us. They quietly whisper: Christmas is coming.
In just a few days, my husband will climb into the attic and one by one boxes will be brought down and opened. Each bin contains memories of our life together as a family. As the tree is trimmed, my children eagerly recall family vacations, preschool creations, and favorite childhood photos. Christmas music fills the air, hot chocolate is served and new memories are added to the old.
As my children look back, they are also looking forward. In the midst of remembering, they also wonder, “What special gifts are coming? Will I get that hoped for something under the tree?” Old memories of past delights can be recalled, while future joys are cloaked, wrapped and waiting for that special day. Looking back and looking forward - this is exactly what the season of Advent is all about.
Advent: The Arrival of Jesus
The word Advent literally means “the coming or arrival”. As Christmas approaches, we look back and remember that starry night in Bethlehem, when in an instant the entire world was changed. Glory arrived, wrapped in the form of a baby. His coming ushered in an entirely new reality for all to behold. The darkness of waiting was replaced as the Light of the World came and made His dwelling among men.
As believers, we look back, but we also look forward. Just as our children delight in the remembrance of past Christmas joys, they also look forward to what awaits them under the tree. More is yet to come. As His people, we look back and remember that Christ has come and redeemed the world. We look forward and hope for that day when He will come again, making all things new. More is yet to come.
In the midst of a busy season, how do we keep the true meaning of Advent alive and flourishing within our homes? In the flurry of activities (from baking to shopping, to celebrating with friends), how do we savor the Savior, reflect upon His coming, and wait with abiding hopefulness for His return?
The Advent Jesse Tree
The original Jesse trees were big carvings, tapestries or also stained glass windows placed in Churches that assisted people unable to read to learn about the Bible from the creation story to Christmas. Today, Jesse Trees are used as a sort of Advent Calendar, counting the days of December to Christmas Day.
According to whychristmas.com, the name comes from Jesse who was the Father of the great Jewish King David. One prophecy in the Bible, in the book of Isaiah, says:
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots, a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness, he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
Isaiah 11:1-4 NIV
For our family, each night in December, as we gather around the dinner table, we pull out ornaments from a special box. Years ago, a friend of mine organized a Jesse Tree party. The Advent Jesse Tree recounts the story of redemption using twenty-five ornaments as symbols to represent different Bible stories, all pointing to the coming Messiah.
My friend sent out a list of all of the different Jesse Tree ornaments. Every woman chose one and made twenty-five of the same ornament (it required 25 women, each making one ornament). During the party, each participant placed one of her ornaments in everyone else’s box. At the end of the night, we all went home with a complete, homemade Advent Jesse Tree set. For me, each of these ornaments is a special reminder - both of the story it represents, and the friend who fashioned it for me.
Starting on December 1st, my children excitedly pull out a miniature tree and the box that contains our Jesse Tree ornaments. To guide our readings, we use an advent devotional entitled, “The Advent Jesse Tree” by Dean Lambert Smith. It provides a devotional and Bible passages that correspond with the ornament for the day. A new Jesse Tree devotional option this year is Ann Voskamp’s “The Greatest Gift.” She also provides printable ornaments on her website for an easy way to bring this tradition home (especially for non-crafty moms like myself!)
After reading the devotion for the day, my children eagerly take turns placing new ornaments on the tree. Day after day, we remember the story of waiting, watching and hoping for the Messiah to come. As we reflect upon the stories, our family learns the beauty of the Biblical narrative - how in the midst of many small stories, there is one larger story that all the others point to. By December 25th, the tree that was once barren is bursting with fullness.
We began using the Jesse Tree when our oldest daughter was three years old. She is now thirteen, her brother is ten and our youngest is seven. For ten years we have pondered these stories, enjoyed time together as a family and been blessed to reflect upon the coming of Jesus. These Advent meditations allow our family to look back and rejoice, “Christ has come!” They also encourage us to look forward in joyful expectation, “Christ will come again!”
*Editor's Note: See all of our free guides to the weeks of Advent by starting here.
Melissa Kruger serves as Women's Ministry Coordinator at Uptown Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and is the author of The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World (Christian Focus, 2012). Her husband Mike is the president of Reformed Theological Seminary, and they have three children. You can follow her on Twitter @MelissaBKruger.
Let go of the busyness and stress of the holiday season and open your heart and mind to peace by experiencing the joy of Jesus' birth as you use 12 Advent Prayers! Finding quiet time during the holidays will help you reflect on the reason for Christmas and preparing our hearts to celebrate Christ's birth. Let us know in the comments how you are preparing your heart!