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  • Nov30Fri

    The Jesse Tree

    Setting the stage for the drama of Christ’s birth. November 30, 2018 by Giselle Randall
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    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.

    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
    Photo of Jesse Tree ornaments and The Jesus Storybook Bible  
    Photo of Jesse Tree ornament - stars  
     Photo of Jesse Tree ornament - stump with branch  
     Photo of Jesse Tree ornaments  

    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
    • 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:

    Here are some other common symbols and Scripture passages you could use: 


    Symbol: world
    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

    Symbol: crown
    Scripture: 2 Samuel 5:1-5

    Symbol: rose
    Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7; 35:1-2

    Further Resources

    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/; © jason-yang/



    On Saturday, October 19, 2019, Rachael Griffith said:

    I am interested in having the Jesse tree ornaments. Can you advise how I can purchase them . Thank you

    Hi Rachael, 
    Thanks for your interest! The tradition of the Jesse Tree is a great way to prepare for Christmas. The Internet has abundant resources for making ornaments, with step-by-step instructions or printables you can download. Try If you want to purchase ornaments, you could try searching a website like Etsy.

    All the best!
    Giselle Randall
    Features Editor



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