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Nov30FriSetting the stage for the drama of Christ’s birth. November 30, 2018 by Giselle Randall
Ushers hand out programs and help people find their seats. The orchestra tunes their instruments. Performers wait in the wings. Then the lights go out, the music goes silent and a hush falls over the crowd, who wait in eager expectation for the drama to begin. The curtain slowly rises.
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Advent is the first season in the Christian year, a season of waiting and longing as we anticipate the birth of the Christ Child. But all too often, it rushes by in a blur of activity. How can we slow down and recover a sense of anticipation? How can we long, with Simeon, for the consolation of Israel? How can we set the stage for the dramatic turn in salvation history that Christmas morning brings?
The tradition of the Jesse Tree can help. The idea comes from Isaiah’s prophecy, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). In keeping with our reflections on the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, this family tree shows us a God who is faithful to his promises. Jesus, from the line of Jesse and David, is the righteous branch, the long-awaited Messiah.
Every day of Advent, read a passage of Scripture from the Old Testament and hang an ornament symbolizing the passage on a small tree or branch. As the symbols are added to the tree, they tell the unfolding story of God’s plan to redeem and restore the world.
Making a Jesse Tree
This is something you can do with your family or congregation. Making the tree and ornaments is a great Sunday school project, but it would also be a meaningful intergenerational event. Place the tree in the sanctuary on the first Sunday of Advent, or a central spot in your home, and incorporate Scripture passages or readings that explain each symbol as they are added to the tree.
- Start with a dry tree branch, without leaves, about 60-90 centimetres high. Place the branch in a bucket and weight it with dirt or rocks. Cover the bucket with brown fabric, felt or paper.
- The Internet has abundant resources for making ornaments, with step-by-step instructions or printables you can download. Try bit.ly/2OWLqM2.
- The 24 stories of the beautifully illustrated The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, make perfect readings for a Jesse Tree Advent devotional. (The accompanying photos are courtesy of Alison Moffitt, The Advent Project: bit.ly/2qhJhvE.)
Here are some other common symbols and Scripture passages you could use:
Scripture: Genesis 1:26-31
Adam and Eve
Symbol: apple and snake
Scripture: Genesis 3:1-19
Symbol: ark and rainbow
Scripture: Genesis 9:8-13
Symbol: tent and camel
Scripture: Genesis 12:1-7
Symbol: stone tablets
Scripture: Deuteronomy 5:1-22
Scripture: 2 Samuel 5:1-5
Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7; 35:1-2
The Jesse Tree, by Geraldine McCaughrean
The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, by Dean Lambert Smith
The Jesse Tree: Stories and Symbols of Advent, by Raymond and Georgene Anderson
Illustrations: © bubaone/iStock.com; © jason-yang/Lightstock.com