"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit." (Isaiah 11:1)
"The Tree of Jesse is a depiction in art of the ancestors of Christ." (wikipedia) It is a type of family tree, a collection symbols representing the people and stories that make up the larger story of redemption, from the perfect creation to the birth of a perfect Messiah. Isaiah 11:1 tells us that the Messiah will come from the family or "stump" of Jesse, and this is why we call it a Jesse Tree. When we make a Jesse Tree for Advent we hang those symbols (ornaments) from a tree (or from...well, something) creating an artistic representation of the family tree, the family story that we all share...for Romans 11:17 says,
"...you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree..."
A Jesse Tree is a simple and tangible way to tell the redemption story, especially if you have small children participating in the family celebration of Advent. We use the ornament symbols as prompts to review the story each night before we tell a new piece of the story. You will be amazed what your children (and YOU) remember even weeks or months later.
The idea of the Jesse Tree goes far back in history. Again, from wikipedia: "The Jesse Tree has been depicted in almost every medium of Christian art. In particular, it is the subject of many stained glass windows and illuminated manuscripts. It is also found in wall paintings, architectural carvings, funerary monuments, floor tiles and embroidery." These images date all the way back to around 1000 AD. So, in using a Jesse Tree as part of Advent, you are participating in a tradition that is at least 1,000 years old. You are part of a great line of people, together honoring the story of redemption through Jesus, the Messiah.
Having a Jesse Tree can be a completely stand-alone tradition and does not have to be done along-side Advent candles or Advent calendars. If the tree, the candles and the calendar are TOO MANY things all at once, you can choose just one. If I were to choose just one, I would choose the Jesse Tree. This, for me, has the most meaning. And, with all the on-line guide available, it can be done with very little preparation, entirely from home. As I've said before, this isn't about doing everything perfectly or doing it ALL the first time around. This is about making meaning and creating focus. Be flexible. Know that what you do this year doesn't have to be what you do next year or the year after. You can do this one year at a time.
To get started with your own Jesse Tree, you'll need ornaments to represent the stories and something to hang the ornaments from. This is what ours looks like:
We chose a wreath because we didn't have any space in a room or on a table for a tree. We have an eclectic assortment of ornaments to represent the stories. For some stories we are still looking for a symbol. As a family, we've enjoyed the quest to find just the right ornament. This makes the Jesse Tree meaningful and personal to us.
Some people use a drawing of a tree on the wall and paper symbols to attach to the tree (printable paper ornaments and a printable guide for each night of Advent 2012 can be found here: Faith Magazine.) Others use a felt tree and felt figures. Jesse-Trees.com has a guide that begins BEFORE Advent this year in order to cover all 29 stories that would be included in the longest Advent seasons. (They also have coloring pages for each day to keep little hands busy while the story is being told!) Other guides cover only 24 stories, to coincide with Advent countdown calendars, and still others give instructions on which stories to use for different season lengths.
We have used the book The Jesse Tree by Raymond and Georgene Anderson, as well as the book The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean to guide our readings. We have seldom just read straight passages out of either book. We often use children's picture books of the story for each night. In upcoming blog posts, I will be sharing some of our resources for each night.
This shows our Advent candles with a few of our Jesse Tree ornaments surrounding them and the McCaughrean book to the side. We like to lay out the ornaments that we will be hanging soon to have them as part of our table centerpiece throughout the day. Our menorahs are also in the photo, in anticipation of Chanukah (also to be discussed in another blog post).
This is the second post in a series of posts on this Season's Traditions. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts, reflection and ideas for the season!