The Jesse Tree

Catherine Fournier

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The Jesse Tree is a simple family devotional for Advent that has brought about some remarkable changes in our family, and in our appreciation and celebration of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

It is a series of Scripture readings tracing the family tree of Jesus from Genesis to the Nativity narrative. It is also a real 'tree,' an ornamental Advent decoration with small hanging symbols, one for each reading. As we read each evening, we follow the history of God's people through the first long Advent which lasted from the Fall to the miracle of the Incarnation. Not only that, as our tree slowly fills with brightly coloured disks, each showing a Bible story, it illustrates how the season is slowly bringing us closer to the great celebration of Christmas Day.

The Jesse Tree can be kept for a separate part of the day, or it can be incorporated into the regular evening prayers. In our home, after one of our children has lighted the Advent wreath and we have sung an Advent song ('Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel' is my favorite) another child hangs the symbol for that day on the Jesse tree. Then Dad or one of the children reads the Bible passage and we ask questions and talk about the reading.

The disks can be made of anything handy and durable: cardboard, wood or cloth with the images drawn, painted or embroidered on to it. The reading is written on the back to make it easy to remember and an image representing the story is painted on the front (an ark, an apple and a snake, a coat of many colours, a raven etc.) Before the night that they are to be used, the disks can be kept in a decorative bowl or box, or in pockets on a wall hanging, whatever keeps them from getting lost.

When we first began our tradition of the Jesse Tree, my husband and I were surprised by the effect of this simple devotional. The Jesse tree readings refocus the family's attention every day on the coming of the Christ Child. We added the Jesse tree reading to our evening prayers. As Advent went on, the genealogical story got closer and closer to Christmas morning and the birth of Jesus. It was exciting. The evening readings put a new perspective on Advent and Christmas. We began to realise that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were real people with histories and ancestors, just like us.

As our children get older they began to take turns with the readings. Often, they don't think the suggested reading is long enough. Especially the story of Joseph and the coat of many colours, "We can't just leave him there! We have to read on and find out what happens next!" So we do, and travel to Egypt and experience the famine with Joseph's brothers and laugh when they are all reunited.

We now look forward every year to this family devotional, one that helps us remember everyday that despite the commercialism all around us, the Nativity story is about real people, real history and a real miracle.

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