The Jesse Tree

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“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Isaiah 11:1

This year the Vicar decided to place a “Jesse Tree” in the Church to replace the flower pedestal (flowers are not part of church decorations in advent) and to use it as a way to highlight the meaning of Advent and Christmas.

Each Sunday of Advent following the Advent Candle Lighting seven decorations will be placed on the Jesse Tree along with a candle ornament (to represent the ever increasing light of God). While the children hang the decorations everyone will sing 2 or 3 verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. Each week the verses will vary – but the last verse each week will always be the one that begins “O Come, O Come Rod of Jesse’s stem….” On Christmas Eve the final decoration will be placed – the Star of David.

The Jesse Tree will be a supplement to our usual Advent/Christmas activities, which include a fully decorated Christmas Tree, a Sunday School, and all manner of lights and hangings.

Information about the Jesse Tree is being shared in a parish bulletin that will appear on the Second Sunday of Advent in our congregation.

Question: What is a Jesse Tree and why do we have one in St. Mary’s this year as part of our Advent and Christmas celebrations?

Answer: The tradition of the Jesse Tree comes to us from Europe. The “tree” is usually a branch or sapling; it may be a real tree or a wall hanging, which is decorated with various symbols that remind us of the purpose and promises of God from Creation to the Birth of Jesus Christ.

Jesse was the father of King David. God promised David that his Kingdom would last forever – and that through him and his seed God would save his people and bless the world. Two centuries after the death of King David God spoke through the prophet Isaiah and said:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 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. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. (Isaiah 11:1-4)

Isaiah also speaks in many other places of the promised King in the line of David – the one whose coming we await during the Season of Advent and whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. And so do the other prophets. Indeed from the story of Adam and Eve to the call of Abraham to leave his home and country and go to a land God would show him, and from the promises made to Moses in the desert of Sinai to the building of the First Temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon, God has promised to be with and to dwell with His People and to bring a new world into being where the wolf will live the lamb and the leopard lie down with the goat – a world where the power of Satan will be crushed under the heel of the child of Eve – a world in which justice and righteousness will shine and evil will be no more, neither will there be suffering nor death.

The Jesse Tree incorporates references to these promises through special ornaments that are placed on the branches when the faithful gather to worship God – one ornament for each day of the Advent Season. The ornaments are usually a handmade symbol or drawing that represents one of the major stories of the Old Testament along with a brief verse of Scripture from that story. For example a picture of Noah’s Ark will remind us that God has promised never to destroy the earth again by a flood and a picture of the Tablets of the Law remind us that God both forms us as a people and gives us guidance on how to live in the world that He made. We will make printed versions of these ornaments and hang them each Sunday following the lighting of our Advent Candles. Just as those candles speak to us of the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love, that we have from God and which we await in the coming of Christ, so too the Jesse Tree will speak to us of what God has done and will yet do.

On Christmas Eve the final symbol will be added to the tree – usually a “Star of David”. That symbol reminds us that all the promises of God come to us in the birth of Jesus – the promised one of God who has risen from the root of Jesse and taken the throne of David.

The wonderful thing about the Jesse Tree is that it helps involve the children and the adults of the church in Advent and Christmas celebrations and it serves as a reminder to all that Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour came to us as part of God’s great purpose for us – a purpose as old as the Creation itself. God has a plan for the world – a plan in which all people will be blessed.

It is in this Spirit that we have a Jesse Tree at St. Mary’s this Advent Season. Indeed this is what we celebrate at Christmas and what all our decorations and symbols are meant to affirm: from the hundreds of lights that help “light our way”, to the Christmas Tree which speaks to us of the immortality given to us through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

May you all have a very blessed Advent and a wondrous Christmas.

Ven. Amatu Onundu Christian-Iwuagwu